After a prolonged wait, India on Thursday launched the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) era, allowing mobile phone users to switch operators without changing numbers.

Launching the new service at Rohtak in Haryana near Delhi, Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said the service would be unleashed in rest of the country by January 20, 2011. The MNP was mooted nearly two years ago and was originally planned to be implemented by 2009. However, the deadlines kept on changing a number of times before it was finally ushered in on Thursday.

Mr. Sibal made the inaugural call to the Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda from a ported mobile number.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Sibal said now the mobile subscribers of Haryana would be able to exercise their choice of the telecom service provider.

He said the choice-based services initiated healthy competition among service providers which ultimately benefits ‘Aam Aadmi'.

He said the mobile subscriber base had reached around 700 million from mere 33 million in March, 2004, as a result of forward looking government policies and active contribution from the telecom service providers.

The networks in all the remaining 21 licensed service areas have started migration for working in the MNP environment.

For orderly technical migration of complex inter-connected networks, each of the remaining service areas will be migrated one by one on alternate days. This will enable simultaneous validation of technical parameters and removal of any problems arising from migration activity to ensure successful and smooth transition of a service area. Migration activities will not take place during the festival season at the end of December, 2010.

Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot said that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) was making an all out efforts to bridge the rural urban divide through telecom technology. “ India is now ushering into an era of convergence of technology and mobile applications which will enable us to ensure delivery of quality services in the rural and far flung, remote areas,'' he added.

DoT Secretary R. Chandrashekhar said this facility would intensify the competition among service providers in respect of quantity and quality of services as well as in terms of tariff.