China’s mobile number portability (MNP) service came online Wednesday, marking the official rollout of a policy a decade in the making.
Lu Chuncong, the head of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s communications management bureau, said at a launch ceremony that mobile users will now be able to keep their phone numbers when switching among the country’s three main network providers, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.
The rollout of the new system comes slightly earlier than planned, with previous reports saying the MNP service would become available Dec. 1. The three carriers resolved a number of issues during a years-long trial period, including system glitches and issues related to contract cancellation and compensation, Lu said.
While some countries have had MNP for years — the United States launched its service in the early 2000s, for instance — until recently China’s hundreds of millions of wireless customers had to change their phone numbers every time they changed carriers.
China’s government views MNP as a way of spurring competition among the three main network providers. The country started testing MNP in 2010, but the project repeatedly suffered from technical obstacles, lax regulation, and resistance from network providers reluctant to risk losing customers. However, the initiative gained fresh impetus after Premier Li Keqiang announced in March that MNP services would go online by the end of this year.
Although China got there in the end, MNP may have come too late to significantly affect China’s vast wireless market. These days, consumers are more likely to chat on a mobile app than make a phone call.
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