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06 Jun 02


From mid 2003, subscribers will be able to keep the same number when
switching from one mobile service provider to another

Statement of EU Directive -
tele.ring and Hutchison 3G want agreement by December -
otherwise conciliation process or ordinance sought

Vienna (APA) - The option to retain one's own telephone number - including the dialling code - on a change of mobile services provider must be offered by 25 July 2003 at the latest. By this date, the relevant EU Directive must also be implemented in Austria. "It is now no longer a matter of 'If' but rather of 'How'", the Managing Director of the German Wissenschaftliches Institut für Kommunikationsdienste (WIK - Scientific Institute for Communication Services), Ulrich Stumpf, pointed out to journalists in Vienna on Thursday.

In the majority of countries across Europe, what is known as number portability in mobile services has already been adopted or at least its implementation is planned. It is only in Finland, France and Austria that there are no concrete plans. In those countries, where it is already possible to take your number with you, the portability rate currently stands at around two to three percent. The trend is, however, rising. According to the Professor, in Hong Kong for example, where a subscriber's number can be transferred to the new network within one to two days, 42.4 percent of customers are already taking up this option.

Stumpf's words have met quite naturally with a positive response from tele.ring, currently the smallest Austrian mobile phone company, and from tele.ring's competitor, Hutchison 3G who are about to enter the market.

Hubertus Hofkirchner, head of tele.ring, is hoping that mobile phone number portability will result in "fairer and more even competition".

Hofkirchner is at the same time anticipating "controversy between the established providers and those that are new to the market". In the fixed networks, where number portability arrived back at the beginning of 2000, the network operators themselves did not succeed in reaching any joint solution, stressed Berthold Thoma, Hutchison 3G's chief technical officer. Both providers are therefore appealing to the telecommunications regulator and to politicians that - if the mobile phone providers have not found a solution themselves by 1 December - number portability should be laid down by means of a conciliation process or an ordinance.

"If politicians hold back, they will definitely be acting in favour of the established network operators", stresses Thoma.

Furthermore, the new Austrian Telecommunications Act (TKG) should require the customer's number to be transferred within 48 hours and that the maximum period of time during which the customer is unable to make calls may not exceed two hours. Moreover, the customer should be able to arrange for the whole process to be organised by the new provider.

No "portability tax" may be dumped on the customer either. The mobile phone companies must bear the costs themselves, says Hofkirchner. The cost per operator is estimated by the Head of tele.ring at a low single figure of millions of euros per year.

Stumpf believes that it is, primarily, business customers who will make use of the new option to retain their mobile phone number. "And", adds Stumpf, "it is precisely these attractive business customers who are of particular importance to the mobile phone companies." According to a study commissioned by tele.ring, number portability would increase the probability of Austria's business customers changing mobile service providers by 62 percent.

- End -