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PM to launch scheme to keep cell number but switch operator

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will on Thursday unveil a new scheme that will permit mobile phone users to change their service providers without having to forgo their numbers in what in industry jargon is called mobile number portability.

The service is currently available in Haryana but is being extended nationwide in a bid to ensure that people dissatisfied with the quality of service of the existing telecom providers are given a choice while being able to retain their phone numbers.

The event is scheduled at 5pm at the Vigyan Bhavan official convention centre here to be presided over by minister for communications Kapil Sibal in the presence of two ministers of state -- Sachin Pilot and Gurudas Kamat.

India currently has over 700 million mobile phone users, making the network the largest in the world after China but ahead of the US. The country has been adding 15-18 million new mobile phone connections to the network every month.

Ahead of the pan-India launch of the scheme, some companies had already started their advertising campaigns to woo dissatisfied customers from other networks. Idea Cellular was the first to start the campaign, followed by Vodafone recently.

The scheme was delayed several times in the past. Initially, it was to be implemented by Dec 31, 2009, in all the metros along with Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The deadline was changed to March 31, 2010, and then to June 30 and subsequently again to October 31. But these were again deferred as operators were not ready with the infrastructure to provide the service.

On November 25, the scheme was launched in Haryana and Kapil Sibal said it would be made a pan-India offer from Jan 20.

To avail the service, a customer will have to pay a maximum of Rs.19 to the new operator for "porting" the numbers. The customer then has to remain with the new operator for at least three months.

The customer has to send an SMS from the existing phone to 1900. Based on this, a unique porting code will be sent by existing provider. The customer has to file an application then with the new service provider mentioning the code for transferring the connection.

Officials said the maximum waiting period fixed for porting is seven working days. But the number will remain out of service for just two hours.

The technology is widely prevalent in most parts of Europe and North America, and in countries like Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.
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