Date: January 30, 2011. Time: 4:30 pm. On the deck of the MV Nordlake off Mumbai harbour –

Captain: “This mobile phone service is horrible – I just can't get through to the cute lady I met at Mondegar's last night. I NEED TO PORT!”

A few minutes later, he looks up from his mobile phone to see his vessel has turned to port and is heading straight towards the INS Vindhyagiri.

Captain: “Fools! We're headed straight for that frigate!”

Sailor at the helm: “But Captain, you asked us to turn towards port!”

And thus, the Captain of the MV Nordlake achieved what has been every Pakistani naval captain's favourite wet dream ever since the Indian Navy caught the Pakistanis with their pants down at Karachi in 1971 – that of sinking an Indian Navy ship.

Well, that's an entirely fictional take on the most recent collision off Mumbai harbour, where ships seem to be colliding as frequently as cars brush against each other on LBS Marg, but the point is, there's a new verb in town that's perhaps on Indian mobile phone subscribers’ minds – porting.


Mobile Number Portability (MNP), the solution that 'porting' your mobile number refers to, has been in the news for the past few years, mostly for being a non-starter. Our sarkar would set a deadline and when it arrived, promptly extend it. This game went on for a year. Obviously, the folks who ran the telecom ministry were busy with other more important things, like scamming the nation of thousands of crores, because of which the then telecom mantriji, the now infamous Mr Raja, and some of the top bureaucrats in his ministry, are currently enjoying sarkari hospitality at Tihar Jail.

But finally, on January 20, MNP was launched across India. Allow me to share my sordid tale of woe with you about my MNP experience.

I’ve been waiting ever since the first MNP deadline to port one of my two Vodafone numbers to a CDMA provider, but since I was travelling on the 20th, I could do so only on January 24. I sent the necessary SMS to obtain my Unique Porting Code (UPC) and off I went to the nearest Tata Indicom True Value Shoppe since I know Tata Indicom has a superb CDMA network that's congestion-free. After the mandatory 30-minute wait I've experienced at any Indian telecom service provider's outlet, (where the employees didn't seem to be doing much, I noticed that only 2 of the 12 counters were manned), I was called upon to present myself.

I told them what I wanted and after I filled up the forms and provided them the necessary documents, I was given a Tata Indicom SIM card and promised that my number would be ported within 7 days.

Even before I could step out of the Tata store, I got a call from Vodafone. A gentleman asked me in shuddh Hindi why I was leaving the Vodafone fold. I replied in English, and he promptly stopped me and asked me to speak in Hindi. Taking a deep breath I decided not to make any sarcastic remarks about the one reason I wanted to leave Vodafone being the telco, which after over 10 years of me being a subscriber, still didn't know which language I preferred to communicate in.

I was surprised because I never thought Vodafone could move so fast, having been at the receiving end of some incredibly slow customer service earlier. They’re not alone, either. Other telcos are dishing out everything from pizzas to movie tickets to retain customers. And we Indians, freebie loving folk that we are, are making the most of this with subscribers sending out porting requests only to get these freebies.

Pizza, unsatisfied customer?

On January 29, 5 days after I submitted the form, I received a text message from Tata Indicom stating that they had sent the request to Vodafone for approval. And within a few hours, Vodafone sent me a text message telling me they had received the request and would respond within 96 hours.

Now, I was never good at Maths, but even I realised that this was way beyond the promised 7-day period. I tried to get in touch with Tata Indicom customer care and at the toll-free number for MNP, I was reassured that it would be done within 7 days.

Well, you guessed it – 7 days passed and still nothing. So I decided to try Tata Indicom customer care again. I couldn't enter the postpaid customer service helpline service since the IVR said my number wasn't a Tata Indicom number. The new lines customer service number said they had no clue about any such information, but asked if I wanted a new line. I declined naturally and contacted the toll free number for MNP again where, incredibly, I was told the number had already been ported and was active on Tata Indicom! I could only bang my head on the wall in despair.

I then contacted the True Value Shoppe where I submitted the form and documents, where they told me that only one employee handled porting there and gave me his Airtel mobile number. That’s right, I said Airtel. He insisted that the porting had already taken place but when I told him my Vodafone number was still working fine, he took me on a wild goose chase that lasted hours.

What is Airtel even doing in this discussion?

The next day I sent an e-mail detailing my woes to the higher ups at Tata Indicom. Of course, within a few hours, the calls started coming in. Someone from the True Value Shoppe called to say they would ‘do a verification' ASAP. Another gentleman called to say verification was in progress and that the number would be ported by 6 pm that day. Ridiculous!

I finally got a call from someone senior who said the problem was that while I had submitted my documents and form on the 24th, the company had only received it on the 28th. While I got the profuse apologies and promises to find out how this happened, I was also told porting would only happen by the 5th.

Finally, on the morning of February 3, I got a text message from Vodafone stating the approval had been made and a few hours later I got 4 text messages (to make up for the lack of communication earlier, perhaps?) from Tata Indicom stating the same thing – that my number would be ported on the night of February 3 at 10 pm. Nothing happened till 11am, but then my Vodafone number was disconnected and around 2 hours later, my number was active on Tata Indicom.

Forever Alone

Yay! All’s well that ends well, but to be honest, perhaps it ended well for me because I made a complaint. And to be even more honest, we’re not entirely home yet. I cannot access Tata Indicom postpaid customer service because the IVR system still insists my number is not a valid Tata Indicom number. But I’m sure someone will set it right, hopefully before 2011 ends. Just when I thought it had all finally worked out, I got yet another little surprise – Airtel subscribers, landline or mobile, can’t make calls to my newly ported number. All they receive is an error message saying ‘The service to this Vodafone number is temporarily disconnected.’ This isn't Tata Indicom's fault, but Airtel's – on the lighter side, perhaps they're upset with me for not responding to all the spam text messages they've been sending me with offers to port to Airtel.

But many have experienced much worse – there are horror stories of customers who've been disconnected at the appointed porting hour by one operator only to be literally left at the altar by another. From just one forum, I found some great examples. Take a look here. Others who ported in the hope of getting speedy 3G are still stuck on 2G.

In other happier cases of bungling by operators, subscribers could surprisingly still use both services! Seems technically impossible, but never doubt the capabilities of telecom operators to do what no man has ever done before.

So, have you ported yet? Do you have a funny porting story to share? C'mon, even if you've been on the receiving end, others will find joy from reading it. Write in and tell us. I travel a lot and reading about the stories of bungling by our telecom operator friends have me ROFL and make for great reading while waiting for my perennially delayed flights at airports. C'mon, share no?!

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