Mobile Biz Braces For New Rules

KIEV, Ukraine -- As it stands today in Ukraine, if you leave one mobile carrier for another, you also lose your phone number – a huge inconvenience in this digital world.

Number portability is a feature available to mobile phone subscribers worldwide

But number portability, a feature available to mobile phone subscribers worldwide, may be in store for tens of millions of Ukrainian mobile phone users as well if Ukrainian lawmakers can get past tough resistance from the country’s two mobile communications giants.

Consumers, as well as small mobile operators, could come out ahead, if a recently introduced draft law allowing subscribers to transfer their telephone numbers from one provider to another comes into force.

Last month, the bill got through its first reading in parliament, receiving a whopping 412 out of 450 votes. Parliament must read the bill at least one more time before it goes to the president to sign into law.

If signed, the law would go into effect six months later, a point of contention for the country’s Big Two telecoms, which say it would be technically impossible to implement changes envisioned by the bill that quickly.

Kyivstar and Ukrainian Mobile Communications (UMC) control about 85 percent of the country’s mobile communications market of about 40 million subscribers.

UMC spokesman Vitaliy Mukhin told the Post that in other countries telecoms were given up to three years to make necessary adjustments to implement a portable mobile number system.

Mukhin wouldn’t say, however, whether he thought the proposed changes would erode his company’s subscriber base, which currently exceeds 16 million people.

But Oleksiy Kostusev, the chairman of Ukraine’s Anti-Monopoly Committee (AMC), said this is exactly what would happen.

“Kyivstar and UMC are not interested in this, as they will likely lose many of their clients, who would immediately switch to the ones whose services are cheaper,” reads a statement sent by Kostusev to the Post.

“Currently, many of their unhappy clients don’t do that in order to retain the number.”

Smaller Ukrainian providers are already more attractive to mobile phone subscribers because they offer no connection fee, Kostusev said. UMC and Kyivstar charge Hr 0.27 for most non-contract packages.

The AMC has already introduced its recommendations to the Communications and Transportation Ministry and the National Communications Regulation Commission.

Two options are being floated: either providers will be allowed to retain their exclusive use of the three-digit code that precedes the mobile phone numbers they service in Ukraine, or subscribers will keep them.

Currently, unlike in the United States, for example, each Ukrainian mobile provider uses its own three-digit prefix.

According to Kostusev, the new legislation would lead to increased competition and thus improved service and lower rates for consumers.

Serhiy Tovstenko-Zabelin, senior spokesman at Kyivstar, said that the provision of portable numbers is not prohibited in Ukraine; therefore, it’s better to leave it to the operators to offer this service to their subscribers rather than forcing them to do so legislatively.

In addition, Tovstenko-Zabelin thinks that the innovation will make mobile communication more expensive.

However, smaller Ukrainian providers, such as Ukrainian Radiosystems (URS), which works under the Beeline brand, are in favor of the new bill. Currently at 1.2 million subscribers, the company is intent on getting a larger piece of the market, URS deputy general director for commercial issues Yevhen Malynovsky told the Post.

Allowing subscribers to hold on to their mobile phone numbers would make changing one’s mobile phone carrier less “extreme,” he added.

Source: Kyiv Post