By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Bahamas’ new mobile operator has pledged to “redouble efforts” to introduce number portability as rapidly as possible, after yesterday’s planned launch was pushed back to March 2017.
Damian Blackburn, Aliv’s chief officer, acknowledged the provider’s “disappointment” with the delay, given that number portability is critical to its ability to penetrate the highest-spending corporate segment of the Bahamian market.
However, he emphasised that the delay would not impede Aliv’s roll-out of services “in any major way”, and promised that the company would continue to work with the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) to make number portability happen.
URCA, the industry regulator, confirmed yesterday that neither BTC nor its first competitor, Aliv, was in position to effectively implement number portability, despite the February 14 (Valentine’s Day) launch having been set from December 23, 2016.
“The launch of MNP (mobile number portability) requires both operators to implement various changes to their networks and business processes,” URCA said.
“Commencing during the last week in January, URCA carried out an assessment of the operators’ readiness for MNP, and has determined that neither operator is in a position to ensure a successful implementation of MNP by 14 February 2017, the date initially proposed.
“URCA is working with the operators to set and agree a revised launch date, which URCA expects to occur in March 2017. URCA will continue to assess and monitor the readiness of the operators to achieve the successful launch of MNP in the Bahamas at the earliest possible date for the benefit of consumers.”
Mr Blackburn told Tribune Business that there was “no point in trolling” over the delay, suggesting that one month was not significant given the 15-16 year wait for mobile liberalisation in the Bahamas.
“It’s a complex procedure,” he added of number portability, “and it needs everybody working together to make it happen as quickly as possible.
“We’re disappointed by the delay, but are working as quickly as possible to make it happen. The fact there’s a few weeks’ delay, while disappointing, is the right thing for the consumer.
“We’re re-doubling our efforts at Aliv to make sure this happens as quickly as possible.”
Number portability, which is already in place for fixed-line telecommunications services, will allow customers of BTC and Aliv to keep their existing numbers when switching between providers.
This, in turn, is vital to facilitating competition and consumer choice for Bahamian consumers, especially businessmen wanting to retain their existing number for commercial purposes and ease of contact. Number portability’s absence is thus a deterrent to Bahamians switching provider.
Emphasising its importance to Aliv, Mr Blackburn told Tribune Business: “There’s a significant segment of the market that’s waiting for number portability to be able to switch to Aliv, and the sooner we manage to make it happen as an industry, that segment will have a choice.
“It’s not hampering our plans in any major way, as we’ve started selling our product to a lot of people happy to have a new number, but there’s a segment of the market that wants to bring their number to Aliv, and we’re working assiduously to make that happen.”
Mr Blackburn added: “We look forward to the day when this is available to everyone, and are playing our part to make it happen with all the other actors in the industry.’
Emphasising that the missed February 14 launch date was not the fault of any particular party, the Aliv chief officer said: “There’s no point in trolling over that. Everything has to happen at the same time. All the cogs have to turn at the same time.”
Mr Blackburn had previously told Tribune Business that the segment waiting for number portability accounted for at least 10-20 per cent of the Bahamian mobile market, and were higher spenders, making them important targets for Aliv as it seeks to rapidly build a customer base and share.
He added that in comparison to other Caribbean markets that have already introduced mobile competition, number portability’s arrival was likely to be more important in the Bahamas.
Pointing to the fact that this market was relatively mature, with total mobile subscriber numbers not moving out of the 300,00-310,000 range, the Aliv chief officer said BTC had been able to entrench its monopoly, building loyalty and brand recognition that would be tough to penetrate.
Mr Blackburn said then that number portability’s arrival would enable Aliv to keep its service roll-out on track, setting the new operator up for “a big year” in terms of its build-out.