CellC halts non-geographic number porting in South Africa

In 2018, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) took steps to enable the porting of non-geographic (i.e. 0800, 0860, 0861, 0862 and 087). But it did not take long for embattled operator Cell C to launch an application in the High Court to stop this from happening.

And while this is pending and there is no urgency from the mobile operator to move the application along, the country is dealt a series of significant blows, not only in terms of opening the market for fair and competitive behaviour, but also network outages that impact call centres nationally.

Despite VoIP service providers being given non-geographic numbers by ICASA, the bulk on inbound call revenue still sits with Telkom – even when it cannot remain relevant in a digitally driven world.  And Cell C’s application has halted any progress on opening the competitive playing field.

More importantly, customers that have non-geographic numbers core to their day-to-day business will continue to feel the impact of large scale Telkom network outages like the one we have seen recently. Telkom still has a monopoly on most non-geographic numbers and businesses are left with no choice.

It is ludicrous that companies are still unable to port these numbers and work with service providers who are committed to driving an always-on call centre capability.

The reality is that Cell C’s application is a result of the company not agreeing with elements of the regulation. For example, the proposed regulation calls for an additional validation step and given how Cell C wants to be able to port as many people as quickly as possible, this could complicate the process and impact on migration numbers. Furthermore, if a number is not ported within a specified amount of time, it reverts to the original provider. Reading between the lines, this could indicate that Cell C is not efficient enough in porting customers and stands to lose more business.

So, while Cell C is trying to fight for its best interests, the entire non-geographic porting process has ground to a halt, setting the country back years. By implication, Cell C is assisting Telkom maintain its anti-competitive behaviour and helping feed the last remaining cash cow it has in place from a voice business perspective.

For us, it is about creating an environment where customers can benefit from reduced prices and better service.  And service providers can start introducing more innovation to a market that is still stuck in the Dark Ages in many respects.

Cell C, it is time to set a date.  Make your case and move our telecommunications industry forward and give companies the choice when it comes to service providers.

Greg de Chasteauneuf, CTO at Saicom