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Non-geographic number porting is (finally) a go

At the end of last year, ICASA proclaimed the Number Portability Regulation, which will come into effect in March. GREG DE CHASTEAUNEUF, Saicom CTO, spells out what it means for businesses.

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It is a regulation that has been 16 years in the making, and hampered by legal action from mobile operator Cell C, who took exception to elements of the regulation.  However, in early 2021, the legal action was dropped and ICASA moved forward with proclaiming the Number Portability Regulation, which will come into effect on 7 March 2022.

The legislation enables businesses to move their non-geographic telephone numbers (0800; 0860; 0861; 0862 and 087), much the same as consumers can port from one network operator to another.  It also allows companies to use different service providers, without having to go through the expensive undertaking of changing their numbers. 

For too long, our country has suffered from the lack of a competitive market.  And whenever something happened to the incumbent network, all inbound calls to these call centres would be affected.   The consequences were far reaching.  For example, people being unable to phone a call centre to have an ambulance dispatched, or receive other urgent assistance, putting lives at risk.  

Initially, Voice over IP (VoIP)  providers were only allocated non-geographic 087 numbers by ICASA, this led to many early adopters staying with the providers who issued them and no option to port them, until now.

Being ‘stuck’ with a service provider is no longer a business challenge.

For the first time, customers that have non-geographic numbers core to their day-to-day business will have the choice to move away from Telkom, increasing their redundancy and realising a material saving on infrastructure and inbound calls. 

Through the proclamation of this legislation, customers can look forward to a number of benefits – most notably cost savings,  access to next-generation infrastructure, greater flexibility, billing simplicity, and ultimately, better service.

Cost savings, not only on the cost per minute (particularly for inbound call centres) but also on backhaul infrastructure. Companies will be able to move beyond the incumbent’s mandated and fixed price infrastructure, and choose from a number of connectivity options like internet, dedicated links or through their SD-WAN

Greater flexibility in how calls can be routed into call centres, or infrastructure means that companies are no longer being held hostage by a single, monolithic  provider, who cannot offer the agility that businesses increasingly require.

Historically, companies would have received two bills – one for inbound call centre and infrastructure and another for all other voice services.  The ability to port, and potentially work with a single service provider, simplifies and streamlines billing processes.

Through this legislation, businesses will no longer need separate infrastructure for their inbound non-geographic numbers (historically provided by Telkom) and all other voice services (delivered by other service providers).  By converging their links, more cost savings can be realised. 

Support services through large enterprises like Telkom, is notoriously hard and inevitably results in longer than normal turnaround times for resolution.  Smaller service providers are equipped to deliver a white glove service and quick resolution turnaround

In the coming months and years, providers will likely undercut each other to provide the cheapest rate to the end customer (the enterprise).  While this is good for reducing overall telecommunications costs, businesses must be cautious and ensure that their new provider ticks all the boxes around voice quality, resilience, high service levels, compliance and security.

Companies who require more innovative call centre solutions can look forward to engaging with next-generation service providers who are innovative, agile and built to deliver greater customisability to meet their needs. 

The service providers are ready. It is time to introduce more innovation to a market that has for too long been stuck in the Dark Ages in many respects.

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