Fixed-to-mobile option under study

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2008, 12:00am

Phone users may soon be able to switch between providers without changing numbers

People may soon be able to switch between fixed-line and mobile service providers without changing their numbers.

The government is studying the possibility of introducing fixed-to-mobile number portability, in which a fixed-line user can switch services to a mobile operator, or vice versa.

Under existing arrangements, a fixed-line user can only switch to other fixed-line service providers using the same number and vice versa.

Mobile numbers, usually prefixed by '9' or '6', cannot be transferred to a fixed number, which starts with '2' or '3'.

'We are conducting a market survey to study the demand for fixed-mobile number portability,' the deputy director general of the Office of the Telecommunications Authority, Ha Yung-kuen, said yesterday. 'The results of the survey will be announced no later than the second quarter.'

Mr Ha said Ofta would contact operators to discuss how to implement such a service.

He said the government would set a new legal framework on fixed-to-mobile number portability based on a market survey. He did not give any details or timetable for the service.

A telecoms operator executive said the government should implement the fixed-mobile portability option as soon as possible.

'Many fixed-line users keep their number, which is a long-time contact for many families, with no choice but to pay for the fixed-line bill,' a mobile operator executive said. 'Once a fixed-mobile portability service is introduced, they can pay less by switching their number to a mobile prepaid service.'

The executive, who did not want to be named, said the government should remove the barrier of number portability between fixed and mobile numbers to enhance market competition. This would also help mobile operators to compete directly with fixed-line players such as PCCW, which had more than 1 million residential fixed-line subscribers.

'This could drive the fixed-line tariff down, as mobile tariffs are already very cheap,' the executive said.

Meanwhile, the government said the implementation of fixed-mobile number portability would help to ease the shortage of eight-digit phone numbers, which Ofta had estimated would be used up by 2015.

Ofta director general Marion Lai Chan Chi-kuen said about 13 million eight-digit phone numbers had been assigned to telecoms operators, but were not yet in service.

The government has suggested charging operators a HK$3 annual fee for each phone number.

'This should not be interpreted as a new tax on phone users. It targets operators and encourages them not to keep phone numbers,' Mrs Lai said.

In a year-end review, Ofta said mobile-phone users in Hong Kong reached a record high of about 10.6 million in November, representing a penetration rate of 152 per cent. They sent 3.28 billion short text messages in the 12 months ended November - an average of 338 per user.

Ringing in the changes

Hong Kong's telecommunications sector has gone from strength to strength in the past year, with almost 1.5 mobile phones now in use for each resident. Here's a breakdown of the statistics until November each year (and the penetration rates)

Fixed lines

2006: 3.83 m (92%)

2007: 3.87m (95%)

Mobile subscribers

2006: 9.4m (134%)

2007: 10.5m (152%)

Short messages sent

2006: 250m

2007: 288m

Broadband subscribers

2006: 1.73m (68%)

2007: 1.86m (76%)