Unlock it! - Government reviewing mobile phone network policy
Phillip Paulwell, the man who championed the liberalisation of the telecommunication sector in Jamaica, wants to see the sector go a step further in promoting competition and consumer choice by no longer locking mobile phones to a single network.
Paulwell, who has ministerial responsibility for technology, said the thrust to introduce number portability to Jamaica requires greater freedom for mobile phone users.
The government has announced that starting June 1 Jamaicans can begin to switch their service providers while retaining the same number.
The porting of numbers will apply to both mobile to mobile and fixed-line to fixed-line.
To this end, the technology minister says it would remove a barrier to porting if telecom companies discontinue the locking of cellphone.
"I have been asked by technical people to look at it, as I have mentioned I am disposed to it. We going to analyse it immediately to look at where we stand and the legal ramifications" Paulwell said.
Commenting further, Paulwell said "it (unlocking cellphones) will enhance competition and we (Jamaica) should look to have it done, but my legal people are looking at it as we speak".
The technology minister did admit that there are contractual arrangements when it comes to purchasing a mobile phone from a service provider which must be borne in mind.
"We are porting numbers and not instruments. The instrument will remain based on the contract you have with the provider because there are restrictions. A lot of instruments are subsidised so we have to recognise those agreements". Paulwell said.
Telecoms companies are generally against selling unlocked cellphones citing the cost to make the device available to the consumer market as well as the need to have a continued relationship with the user.
Meanwhile, players in the mobile market, specifically small entrepreneurs who sell, repair and unlock phones, stand to see a financial windfall in the short term as a result of number portability.
Owner of QuickFix Techtronic, Yanique Gayle, and Ryan Wilson, proprietor of Ryan Sean and Company, both anticipate that there will be an increase in demand from persons who will need to unlock their phones in order to move from one network to another.
"Those on the local network who purchased their phones in Jamaica will certainly want the ability to move so they will seek out unlocking services and as a result the market can see a boom in that regard" Gayle said.
She points out that the cost to unlock a cellphone varies from a low of $1,000 up to $5,000 to $6,000, with high-end devices like an Iphone attracting a higher price.
Noting that unlocking a phone is a one-time process, Wilson, for his part, says small entrepreneurs can expect to see more people demanding the service.