By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas’ new mobile operator believes yesterday’s number portability launch is “as momentous a milestone” as its creation, given that it can now target an extra 100,000 subscribers.
Damian Blackburn, Aliv’s top executive, told Tribune Business that the ability for consumers to retain their existing number when switching provider would “liberate” one-third of the Bahamian mobile market.
Disclosing that Aliv’s total subscriber base now stands at 60,000, close to 20 per cent of the total, Mr Blackburn said mobile number portability represented the true introduction of competition for Bahamians.
He added that Aliv’s retail stores were braced to deal with increased business volumes that “could be as busy as Christmas” over the coming days, as customers sought to take advantage of both number portability and new plan/product offers.
“This is as big a milestone in some ways as the day Aliv was launched,” Mr Blackburn told Tribune Business of mobile number portability’s arrival, albeit more than two months late and after three delays.
“It’s going to liberate a lot of people who have been tied because of their number to only one provider, but are now going to have their choice of better quality, value and service.
“Now, that’s [number portability] just opened up another one-third of the market. We’ll carry on pushing hard and see what happens. We’ll continue to work very hard to retain the trust of those in the Bahamas who have joined us, and those who haven’t.”
Mr Blackburn, in a previous interview, estimated that there were around 100,000 existing mobile users who would not consider switching to Aliv unless number portability, and the ability to retain their existing cell number, was in place.
The absence of number portability was also seen as complicating Aliv’s efforts to penetrate the 50,000 post-paid subscriber market, many of whom are businessmen and corporate executives.
The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), the former monopoly mobile provider, gave its total subscriber numbers at 310,000-315,000 prior to liberalisation and Aliv’s operational launch in November 2016.
“It’s hard to know exactly, but we’d estimate that about one-third of the market comes open to us that we were unable to target previously,” Mr Blackburn said of mobile number portability’s effects.
“Those corporate customers and consumers who have had their number a long time. Those are the customers that are going to benefit from this. Today, we are open to all.”
Mr Blackburn added that Aliv’s subscriber base had now expanded to 60,000 and, based on BTC’s pre-liberalisation numbers, that equated to around a 20 per cent total market share.
“It’s momentous. It’s probably as big a day as our launch in October, and launch of operations in November. It’s huge,” he reiterated.
“We’ve been waiting for it, working hard, and have to give credit to URCA and BTC. Both worked hard to make it happen; co-operation that benefited the consumer.
“It seems simple, but to make number portability happen is a very difficult project. A lot of co-operation between BTC, Aliv and URCA is required to make it happen.”
Mr Blackburn said customers had been in Aliv’s retail stores to ‘port’ their existing number, and switch to its services, “all day” yesterday.
To do so, he explained that customers needed to bring a government-issued identification and bill with their address on from the last three months. “You then text a short-cut number with BTC to start the process, and put a SIM in your new Aliv phone or existing phone,” Mr Blackburn said.
He added that Aliv’s retail stores will “manage any rush as best we can”, as customers sought to exploit both the launch of mobile number portability and new products/services.
“There’s a chance we could get as busy as Christmas,” Mr Blackburn told Tribune Business. “We did have a spike yesterday as well.
“It’s probably a mixture of portability and offers to customers that are causing us to have a big amount of volumes; a busy few days.”
Mobile number portability is currently available on just New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco and Eleuthera, but Mr Blackburn said it would roll-out nationwide as Aliv built out its network through the Family Islands.
Mobile number portability was initially supposed to launch on February 14 this year, but URCA postponed the date twice. It was then supposed to launch on April 25, but was subsequently pushed back two days to ensure the porting system was stable.
Mobile number portability is vital to facilitating competition and consumer choice for Bahamians, especially businessmen wanting to retain their existing number for commercial purposes and ease of contact.