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KARACHI, Aug 2: Cellphone operators in the country are investing nearly $100 million in order to meet the deadline of October 2006 given by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for the implementation of mobile number portability (MNP), telecom sources said.

They said except for two newcomers that might not invest much because their system and technology had been updated and was MNP-compliant, the rest were investing heavily to upgrade their switches and exchanges.

The PTA last month asked all the cellphone operators and PTCL to speed up the process of upgrading their switches for the early implementation of MNP (a system which enables a mobile phone subscriber to carry the same number while changing the cellphone operator).

The PTA warned of stern legal and regulatory proceedings against those operators who failed to comply with the PTA deadlines and implement the MNP. The authority asked PTCL in particular to upgrade its switches by the end of September positively. Perhaps Pakistan will be the first country in the region to implement this system.

Dawn tried to find out investment plans of some cellphone operators and their efforts in meeting the deadline of October.

Telenor Pakistan chief executive officer Tore Johnson told Dawn from Islamabad that the company alone was roughly investing $7.5 million for implementing the MNP. “We are ready to meet the deadline.”

The mobile users will have ultimate choice with the implementation MNP. A customer will be free to decide which service he prefers and where he likes to be a customer.

When asked some leading cellphone operators and even PTCL have some reservations over the MNP, he said complex issues took time to resolve. At present the central database system is under implementation. This is a key step in the execution of MNP, as there is a need to upgrade all mobile operating systems and conduct technical and network enhancement to handle the MNP.

“That is where all mobile operators have to work together to deliver results in a timely manner. PTCL will not be ready with their final solution and a temporary solution will be set up,” Mr Johnson added.

In reply to a query that Telenor is behind in urging the government for the MNP, he said the introduction of the new system was defined in Pakistan’s telecom policy which was in place even before Telenor was in the picture.

According to the policy, the MNP should have been in place by January 1, 2006.

When asked the MNP is only popular in Hong Kong and Scandinavian countries as compared to the US, the UK and other European countries, the Telenor CEO said since the MNP was defined in the telecom policy, it was only a matter of following the policy. “The PTA understands that the new system is important in providing a level-playing field in the market and that it will eventually benefit the consumers. The introduction of MNP will set a good reputation for future investment and promotion of fair competition,” he added.

Meanwhile, telecom sector sources said Ufone was roughly investing $20 million to upgrade its system and equipments for the execution of MNP by October. They said the company had already placed orders for equipments and was urging its vendors to deliver them on time.

Omar Manzur, head of public relations, Mobilink, said the company was making all-out efforts to achieve the MNP implementation deadline. “Mobilink is investing a `sizeable amount’ for this purpose.” Furthermore, the company is contributing equally along with other mobile operators in funding Pakistan MNP Database (Guarantee) Ltd -- the company which owns the central MNP database, responsible for facilitating the porting process among cellular operators.

In reply to market reports that Mobilink was against the idea of MNP in Pakistan, he said the company was working towards the achievement of MNP implementation. “We are preparing for its implementation and the company has invested substantially into its systems to accommodate the new system,” he added.

When asked that the MNP does not exist in India and its success rate is not satisfactory in European countries, Mr Manzur said the Pakistani market was different from South Asian or western markets. “The success of MNP in Pakistan will depend on many factors, including customer behaviour and market trends.”

On technical problems, he said various processes and procedures added to the success of MNP implementation which included technical and operational readiness of all parties concerned. Furthermore, due to technical complexities involved, call connectivity and accurate charging of calls to ported numbers will also play a significant role in the success or failure of MNP in Pakistan.

At present there are some 33-34 million mobile phone users in Pakistan. The share of Mobilink is over 16 million. Ufone has 7.5 million customers, Warid Telecom 4.5 million, Telenor three million, Paktel over one million and Instaphone has 350,000 subscribers.