Friday, July 9, 2010

Identity Portability : a small mobile portability issue in UK reminds a global email portability issue nearly everywhere

For more than a decade, regulators in Europe have forced telcos, in a sense of teasing competition, to ease transfer of mobile phone number from an operator to another one. Today, nothing exist for email portability.

In UK, new rules applied from 2011 onwards still include a statement indicating that the consumer must first ask authorization to donor operator. UK is the single country in Europe where this preliminary authorization is required.

In the scope of identity portability, mobile number certainly is a key identification mean. But email is probably today as important for residential consumers.

Some petitions about email portability in order to restrict the power of AOL have been proposed to FCC in US. Email portability has been approved by Knesset in Israel. Where does European Commission stand for email address portability ?

Perhaps European Union should also define rules in this email portability area, some persons being locked with their ISP only due to their email address. And this regulation should not be restricted to ISPs. It should also be applied for email service providers in general.

Differentiation should then be done based on the service (user experience, availability, multi-screen, easy configuration, etc...). In my humble opinion, Gmail is today far ahead in this area.

Some will argue that anyone is free to buy a domain name. But complexity of configuration severely restricts adoption by the mass. So there is still a sense to have email service provider domain names.

There are several ways to bring technical solutions to this problem with different levels of facilities. There could be a progressive approach after a transition period.

Such a regulation would not necessarily hurt ISPs and/or telecom operators. On one hand, operator email addresses (e.g. are the best anti-churn weapons for ISPs when they fight with their direct competitors. On the other hand, this pushes more and more residential consumers to migrate their digital identity to an over-the-top email service provider (hotmail, gmail, yahoo, facebook will follow - all in US).
Fighting against each other, European ISPs are collectively loosing an important service in their global communication offering, thus leaving the floor for (mostly US) players eager to grab more and more ground space in the service plane territory.

To be continued ...

Benoit Quirynen

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