Mobile number portability
  • On Friday night South Africa's acting telecommunications minister dropped a ban on mobile number portability with immediate effect.
  • That means you can change networks again without losing your cellphone number.
  • The ban has been in place for more than a month, under emergency Covid-19 measures.
  • It was never entirely clear how stopping people from changing cellphone networks would help slow the spread of Covid-19.
  • Cellphone networks and ISPs can also increase prices again.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

As of Friday night, South Africans can again change mobile networks without losing their cellphone numbers.

In an amendment to disaster regulations, acting minister of communications and digital technologies Jackson Mthembu struck out a prohibition on mobile number portability first imposed on 26 March – just before South Africa's hard Covid-19 lockdown started.

The effect of the amendment is that mobile numbers may immediately be ported between cellphone networks again, allowing customers to move between them more freely.

Number portability is a keystone of competition in the cellphone market, and was first imposed on mobile operators in order to drive down prices.

The communications department was not immediately available to say why the ban had now been dropped, but various departments have been reducing the scope of restrictions imposed in late March and early April ever since South Africa shifted to Alert Level 4.

Before declaring the prohibition, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams spoke of her department's wish to stop scammers from taking advantage of South Africans during a time of disaster. Fraudsters regularly use fake number-porting requests to take over phone accounts, intercept SMSes, and so access bank accounts.

See also | SA is seeing a new WhatsApp scam outbreak: here's how to protect yourself

But it was never clear how stopping porting would directly help "combat the spread of Covid-19" – the stated purpose of the package of measures in which the prohibition appeared.

Ndabeni-Abrahams was suspended from her duties after she visited a friend during the hard lockdown, putting Mthembu in charge of her department.

Friday's amendment simultaneously lifted a prohibition on all "licensed entities" – including all cellphone networks and internet service providers (ISPs) – increasing their prices. 

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