Council unveils Mobile Number Mixing Mystery

12/11/2014 16:31

Inkk Mobile (Fiji) Limited (Inkk) and Vodafone Fiji Limited (Vodafone) mobile number holders must be cautious when calling mobile numbers ranging with prefixes of 8X and 9X, as they may be losing out on their purchased credits, especially during promotions.

This caution call comes from the Consumer Council of Fiji after establishing that there is mixing of numbers between Inkk and Vodafone.

It is widely known that Inkk users carried mobile numbers ranging with prefix of 8X, while Vodafone mobile numbers ranged from prefix 9X. BUT due to mixing of numbers, both Vodafone and Inkk mobile numbers have prefixes 8X and 9X.

The Council’s audit on mobile number allocation shows Inkk mobile numbers start with “95, 96, 98, 84 and 87” prefix while Vodafone mobile numbers start with “80, 83, 86, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 97 and 99”.

We are concerned that there is no pattern or sequence in the allocation of these numbers, which consumers can remember easily and differentiate Inkk numbers from Vodafone. Inkk mobile numbers appears to be allocated in a broken sequence.

This is unfair, misleading and a matter of grave concern to the Council as the mixing of numbers is causing confusion among the mobile phone users at large.

Customers are unable to distinguish the difference between a Vodafone and Inkk number, unlike Digicel numbers which are operating with one range of mobile numbers starting with 7XXX .

A good example is Inkk’s “Real Freedom Pass”promotion. This particular advertisement stated “$250 Real Freedom Free Money, Unlimited Free SMS, Unlimited Free PXT and 3G Video Callings are for INKK to INKK services only”. This means that a consumer will end up using their normal purchased credit if he/she calls a Vodafone customer unknowingly, when the intention is to call on INKK numbers. Due to the mixing of the numbers, they would not know that the number would belong to Vodafone or Inkk.

The question for Inkk is: How can Inkk customers know that the numbers they are calling with the prefix “9XXXXXX” are actually Inkk numbers and not Vodafone? The only way consumers will know the Inkk numbers is by memorising, which is not easy. Unlike the Digicel numbers which has a prefix of 7X, where subscribers are able to differentiate the networks on which they call. This makes it crystal clear for all mobile phones users to know that they are calling a different network, thus will be paying a different rate.

Another evident example is Vodafone’s Magic Minutes Bundle Packages, “Magic Minutes!! Get 20 times more Minutes”. This promotion is for only Vodafone pre-pay users. Magic Minutes can only be used for on-net calls, which is Vodafone to Vodafone only. Unfortunately, once again, some Vodafone customers subscribing to this promotion may not know whether they are calling a Vodafone number or Inkk number.

Current practice exposes Inkk and Vodafone customers to the risk of easily losing their purchased credit. As a result, this erodes competition in the market.

There needs to be clarity and some form of order in place with number allocation to respective mobile phone operators. This will allow consumers to make an informed decision when making calls knowing precisely how much they will be charged per call.

Vodafone, a highly successful mobile phone company, also a philanthropic institution, owes a duty of care to consumers, particularly the vulnerable, elderly and the ones who are not tech-savvy, who don’t have the knowledge/expertise to grasp the current number mix up between Vodafone and Inkk.

Recently Inkk and Vodafone have started showing the number range in the newspaper advertisements in “fine prints”. This is hardly legible and the public do not even know why they are required to know the number range of Inkk and Vodafone. We cannot allow Vodafone and Inkk to sell their products with a tag “Buyers Beware” and expect the consumers to be fully aware of the number range.

The above solution is not practical. Hence, the Council is urging TAF to get Vodafone and Inkk to introduce beep sounds when consumers make calls on alternative platforms. This will signal it as off net calls i.e. the call is not Inkk to Inkk or Vodafone to Vodafone and therefore, higher charges will apply. Secondly, Vodafone and Inkk mobile numbers can be recalled and re-assigned for clarity purpose. This is very crucial, especially, when Vodafone and Inkk are putting out promotions which only apply to their respective numbers or services.