ISLAMABAD: The ban on mobile number portability (MNP) ordered by the ministry of interior as part of its ‘counter-terrorism measures’ has dismayed cellphone users who feel deprived of their right to switch over to a network of their choice.
Under the MNP policy announced by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, cellphone users could switch to different networks while retaining their numbers.
“How can you snatch the right of 118 million customers to have a network of their own choice since they pay for your services,” Farhana Niaz, a mobile phone user of a leading cellular company, said.
According to PTA’s figures, 118m people are using the Global System for Mobile communication across the country.
The PTA decided to ban the MNP on Nov 9 at a meeting chaired by the interior minister since the facility was reportedly creating problems to track down anti-state elements.
Some sources said the ban might be reviewed by the PTA after Muharram.
“Some mobile phone operators have raised concerns over the ban on MNP because it will hurt the companies having limited users on their networks,” they said.The source said the MNP was beneficial to users because some companies had limited service in remote areas of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and they could switch to other networks if they faced problems.
However, a counter-terrorism official said: “We keep people under observation and track them down through their cellphones but now terrorists or other people under observation port out their numbers from one network to another.”
“Once a user switches to a new company because of MNP the new operator does not impose observation, call recording and message tracking on the number until it is approached by the security authorities,” he said.
While the MNP process is implemented in a couple of days, the user manages to remain off the radar for seven to 15 days.
The business head of a mobile phone company claimed that big firms having a major share of customers and revenue were against the MNP.
“The new entrants in the telecom market or small companies are always willing to offer good call rates and packages to new customers wishing to benefit from the MNP.”
A network engineer of a mobile phone company said: “Once we put a number under observation on the request of ‘sensitive institutions’ we regularly share their data with them. However, once a customer uses MNP, issues often arise. But the agencies are supposed to follow the number not the operator.”
“I think the security operators, the cellular network companies and the regulator should sit down and resolve the issue as cellphone use is always linked with terrorism and ordinary costumers have to suffer,” Saeed Ahmed Khan, a telecom analyst, said.
He said such measures would discourage investment by the telecom operators.
He said the telecom operators should take up the issue with the authorities jointly, otherwise “they will be the ultimate losers since they will lose business and the telecom industry will suffer because of continuing directives of the ministry”.