Of the 16.8 crore-odd mobile subscribers as of 2020, only 10.7 lakh have availed the service since MNP was rolled out in October 2018
After much ado and delay, the mobile number portability, the service that allows subscribers to swap networks without changing their existing 11-digit number within 72 hours, arrived in Bangladesh in 2018.
Given the overall level of discontentment among mobile users about their networks, it was expected that the service would take off in a big way.
About two years on, the demand for the service, which cost Tk 57, has fizzled out.
Of the 16.8 crore-odd mobile subscribers as of 2020, only 10.7 lakh have availed the service since its rollout.
Users found the service to be more trouble than it is worth.
Some complained of not getting 4G network, while others said they were not receiving one-time passwords for authentication purpose from their banks and elsewhere.
And after swapping operators, if the customers did not like the service quality of the new network, they had to wait out 90 days to move back to their previous carrier. After migrating back, the same set of problems remain in terms of lack of text messages, according to users who had availed the service.
“I wanted to avail this service but seeing the sufferings of one of my friends I just changed my decision,” said Mahmudul Rahman, a mobile subscriber.
Discussions on MNP started in 2009 and in June 2013, the BTRC asked the mobile operators to introduce the service by January 2014. But the operators failed to do so, which compelled the telecom regulator to go for a third-party company to implement the service.
The telecom regulator had narrowed in on Infozillion by way of a beauty contest auction in 2017. The licence acquisition fee has been set at Tk 10 crore, and the winning company will have to share 15 per cent of its revenues with the government from the second year onwards.
TIM Nurul Kabir, former general secretary of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, blamed both the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission and the mobile operators for the service, which was introduced 15 years after it came into being, flopping.
“They simply did not take proper measures to reach the customers.”
There has been no marketing, no monitoring, no awareness campaign on the service.
“How many people know about MNP? The operators and the regulatory commission did not take any initiative to popularise MNP, so the system is running slowly here. But elsewhere, this is a very popular service.”
The authority did not even take any feedback from the customers about the quality of MNP service, he added.
The BTRC should have a strong role here, said Sumon Ahmed Sabir, chief technology officer at [email protected].
“From the beginning, we have been getting complaints from customers about network problems, call drops and other issues. But no step has been taken yet. The service became worse day by day. So customers are turning their back from this service.”
There should be quality benchmarking, he said.
“If BTRC monitors it strongly, the operators would be under pressure,” he added.
However, Mohammad Zulfikar, chief executive officer of the MNP service provider Infozillion Teletech, which fought off competition from four other bidders for the contract, disagrees with the accusations levelled against the service.
“There must be very few people facing problems.”
He went on to blame the third-party service providers, that is the mobile operators, for the underwhelming service quality.
To address the problem of customers not getting OTPs and other text messages after making the switch to another operator, Infozillion has set up a “deeping” platform for all the financial and SMS service providers and other platforms to connect.
But Infozillion found that none had connected to the platform.
“If the related service providers connected with us, the problems will be solved within a day.”
Zulfikar went on to state that the BTRC could give a solution to the problem.
“We hope to get one within 15 days.”
About the 70.9 per cent drop in customers availing the MNP service in 2020, Zulfikar blamed the pandemic.
Subscribers need to pay a visit to the new operator’s customer care centre to complete the MNP process, he added.
“This is not too important an issue right now,” said Shyam Sunder Sikder, the newly-appointed chairman of BTRC.
If the customers are not satisfied with any network, they will go to another network through the MNP service.
“We opened this opportunity for the citizens.”
He went on to cite the pandemic for the low MNP numbers in 2020.
“It would not be appropriate to do an analysis right now. It would be better to compare with normal times,” he added.
Robi was the first choice among mobile subscribers when migrating, while Banglalink took a heavy beating.
Taimur Rahman, chief corporate and regulatory affairs officer of Banglalink, said that some of their customers might have wanted to check other networks while retaining their Banglalink number using the MNP.
"We accepted their requests and we do believe that we shall have them back in the coming days," he added.