By Marlon Madden
It is official. Barbadians can now switch mobile and landline providers without having to change their numbers.
Telecommunications officials made the announcement on Wednesday that local number portability (LNP) is now a reality in Barbados, after years of planning and putting the necessary systems in place.
Addressing the official launch at the Courtyard by Marriott Bridgetown on Wednesday, officials indicated that the move will further liberalise the telecommunications sector here.
Declaring that the sector had “come of age”, Minister of Industry, Innovation, Science and Technology (MIST) Davidson Ishmael told the gathering that he expected the rollout of the LNP to result in increased competition in the market.
“Local number portability is considered to be a key factor in enhancing competition within a multi-operator environment,” he said.
“The ability of consumers of telecommunications services to access new and or existing services or to change the operator from whom they obtain services without unfortunate consequences being forced upon them, has the potential to drive current and future operators to provide more and better services at cost-effective prices even as they compete against each other to attract new customers.
“Another happy consequence of this, is that it will also make the market more attractive for new entrants who could theoretically, penetrate the sector more easily upon entry. Accordingly, the telecommunications industry will naturally become more competitive, leading to a more liberalised market, which is essential for Barbados’ digital transformation,” he said.
In addition to the current telecommunications providers Digicel and Cable and Wireless, which operates here as Flow, officials are expecting KW Telecommunications to enter the mobile market soon.
With LNP now in place, holders of a cell phone or landline from one provider, will be able to switch between providers and keep their original number.
Ishmael said it was anticipated that a switch in provider for a mobile service would be completed within 24 hours following a request, while the request for the landline phone should be honoured in about five days.
“It will remove the hassle and inconvenience of having to inform your contacts such as family, friends, colleagues, customers and clients that your number has been changed,” Ishmael added while also noting that there is no fee associated with the switch request.
He said that stakeholders have agreed to ensure that consumers have “the best experience when activating and navigating the process”. The minister also gave the assurance that his ministry will be vigilant in ensuring that the system works as designed and that “all stakeholders reap the benefits of having a more competitive and vibrant telecommunications landscape”.
While LNP was ready last October, officials have been carrying out testing in an effort to iron out any kinks.
Clifford Bostic, Director of Digital Infrastructure in the Ministry of Industry, Innovation, Science and Technology (MIST), noted that regulations to accommodate LNP have been in place since 2001 and officials started to put the infrastructure in place in 2017.
He noted that setbacks were encountered in 2019, delaying the introduction of LNP by the planned June 2022 deadline. In 2019 the business rules for LNP were developed.
“We have been monitoring the business rules. That is the key set of rules that help us make sure that number portability goes the right way and it doesn’t go south,” he said.
Bostic believes that number portability will work with “good pricing and good quality of service”.
He gave the assurance that over the next three months the ministry will continue to monitor the change.
“The team will still be working, monitoring number portability, the transactions, monitoring the business rules and amending them and also sitting down and working out how we can amend the regulations which are already enforced,” he said.
Officials of telecommunications providers Digicel and Cable & Wireless welcomed the move.
Country Manager of Cable and Wireless (Barbados) Ltd. Desron Bynoe said the introduction of LNP in Barbados was a testament to the strength and cohesion of the sector here.
He said his company will definitely be seeking to increase its market share in the mobile and landline space.
“Of course, we will have special offers to celebrate the introduction of local number portability for everyone,” said Bostic.
“We believe in the power of a connected society and the culmination of this project further demonstrates our long-term commitment to our mission of connecting people and creating value . . . it signals the beginning of a new era in telecoms in Barbados,” he added.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of Digicel (Barbados) Ltd. Natalie Abrahams said the introduction of LNP here represented a significant milestone in the telecommunications sector.
Pointing out that individuals and companies no longer have to fear losing their number if they change provider, Abrahams said with the new freedom, customers can now “make their choice in service provider that aligns with their specific needs in relation to value, reliability and service”.
“Digicel continues to believe that Barbadians deserve modern technology and access to it freely, so we continue to optimise and invest in our network, innovate our products and work with the business community to create customised ITC solutions that meet their growing needs,” she said.