IctQatar will require Qtel and Vodafone to set up a computer system that can automatically switch customers between different mobile phone companies, thereby preventing either operator from delaying the transfer of accounts.

The ability to transfer customers has been an issue in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where new market entrants Etisalat Misr and Etihad Etisalat, both subsidiaries of UAE telecoms giant Etisalat, have complained that customers have found it difficult to transfer their existing phone numbers to a different company.

“I am quite confident about mobile number portability,” says William Fagan, executive director of ictQatar. “I cannot see a [problem] scenario developing because the technology [to take switching out of the operators’ hands] is available.”

The issue is particularly significant for Qatar, as Vodafone is a new entrant in the market and will have to attract existing Qtel customers if it is to be successful. Qtel had 1.4 million mobile customers at the end of March 2008, the same figure as the total population of the country. “In some markets, it is possible for a new operator to launch without mobile number portability because the market is growing so quickly,” says Fagan.

Qtel and Vodafone will be asked to jointly fund and manage the system for transferring customer accounts.