I had woken up early on Thursday morning and was wondering what to write about this week. At this point the phone rang. It was ‘Hingga’ Pala, a name given to my friend Siripala, a beggarly character who always asks for money, even though he has enough resources. ‘Hingga Pala’ was in fact the name [...]

Business Times

Switching mobile connections


I had woken up early on Thursday morning and was wondering what to write about this week. At this point the phone rang. It was ‘Hingga’ Pala, a name given to my friend Siripala, a beggarly character who always asks for money, even though he has enough resources. ‘Hingga Pala’ was in fact the name of a character in the Yes Boss TV series on a local channel.

I hadn’t spoken to him for a while and was wondering whether it was one of his tricks to get money, which I have found a way to avoid. We both know the game and end up as friends even though I refuse his request – time and again – for money. On this day, as usual, he started off asking for money, “I say, can you give me a loan?” but quickly said he was joking. I laughed and replied: “You know I don’t have that kind of money.”

We discussed many issues and at one point he asked, “Why is the government intransigent on the fertiliser issue? Everyone agrees that it’s not a bad idea to shift to organic fertiliser but a proper approach is needed and such a transition cannot be done overnight. It would take several years.”

“I think it’s more about being stubborn in sticking to the decision (than anything else) and it’s a fallacy to believe that Sri Lanka can shift to an organic fertiliser-usage economy in one go. No country has achieved more than 10 percent in organic fertiliser usage on crops. How can Sri Lanka swim against the tide?” I asked.

“It is the farmers who are suffering and not the non-farming public. If crop production drops and that is what experts are saying, the government will import rice (and it is unlikely to be organic rice which is expensive) to feed the people. In the case of the farmer, his income drops sharply and there would be less food on the table,” he said and exchanging ‘byes’, rang off.

I was still grappling with a subject to write about – since I had dealt with the fertiliser issue in several columns recently – when my attention was drawn to the margosa tree where the trio had gathered for their weekly ‘get-together’.

What intrigued me was that they were discussing a recent development in mobile phone connections, giving me an instant idea on a topic to write about.

“Mama paththare kiyewwa, apita ape jangama dura kathanaya maaru karanna puluwan kiyala, wena ayathanayakata, nommare maaru karanne nathuwa (I read in the newspapers that we can now transfer our mobile phone connection to another company without having to change the number),” said Kussi Amma Sera.

“Eka bohoma honda deyak, mokada mage jangama dura kathanaye prashna godak thiyenawa. Eka ganan-uth wedei (That’s a very good idea as I have been having many problems with my phone connection and the costs are rising),” said Serapina.

“Ikmanata eka karanna puluwan nam hondai. Me davas wala mata hari karadarai mage meda peradiga inna yaaluwo ekka sambanda-wenna (I hope we can do the change soon, since I have been having problems in recent times trying to connect to my friends in West Asia),” added Mabel Rasthiyadu.

So Kussi Amma Sera came to my rescue on Thursday morning, providing me with the topic for this week. Not bad eh!

They were talking about Mobile Number Portability (MNP) which is a worldwide practice, where customers using a particular service provider can switch to another service provider without having to change the original number. It means if you have a 0777 number and need to shift to a service provider with a 0714 number and vice versa, that is allowed under MNP without changing your original number.

It comes in very handy because if you have a long list of contacts, it’s not easy to change the number and retain the contacts. In the new move – which has been approved by the government – shifting to a new service provider by using the same number is now permitted.

But there is a lot more work to be done before this scheme, which has been under discussion since 2012, becomes operational. Not being familiar myself as to how this scheme functions and also as a guide to my readers, I tapped an industry expert, on the road ahead.

According to Nushad Perera, an expert formerly from Dialog Axiata and its parent company in Malaysia, the plan to shift to MNP has been in the works for some time.

“While the legal framework has been completed, we need to now deal with the operational aspect,” he said, adding that while working in Malaysia a few years ago, that country had introduced MNP which is now a common feature in the global telecom industry.

The decision applies to both cell phones and fixed lines – for example an SLT fixed line user can switch to Lanka Bell and vice versa or in mobile phones, a Mobitel user can switch to Dialog or Hutch and vice versa.

Perera says that to make it operational there is a need to set up an MNP crib (similar to the crib in the banking sector where details of customers with a bad debt history are recorded) and also a clearing house (once again, just like the banking sector which uses it for clearing of cheques).

“For example, if a customer wants to transfer to another service provider but has huge debts to pay to his/her current service provider, the transfer would be permitted only after the customer settles all the dues,” he said.

According to telecom regulator, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), there are at least 30 million mobile connections as at June 2021, significantly higher than the country’s population of 22 million, largely because most people have more than one connection.

In terms of fixed lines, there are 3.5 million connections. The mobile phone operators are Dialog, Mobitel and Hutch (which also acquired Etisalat two years ago), while the
fixed line operators are Sri Lanka Telecom, Dialog and Lanka Bell.

As I wound up my column, Kussi Amma Sera walked into the room with my second mug of tea and, seeing me struggling with my mobile phone to call someone, said: “Oya jangama dura kathanaya maaru karanna oney neda (You need to change your mobile connection).”

Ekanam hari (Very true),” I said but realised that it would be several months before MNP became a reality.

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