Millions of mobile phone users in the UAE can now start the process of switching providers while keeping their existing number.

Etisalat customers will be able to switch to du and retain their phone number after the Dubai-listed company yesterday said it had enabled mobile number portability.

At last month’s Gulf Information Technology Exhibition, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority issued a directive for both telecoms operators to enable mobile portability by the end of the year.

Etisalat customers who wish to switch to du can send a mobile short message “CHANGE” to 3553. But they have to wait until next month for the change to take effect.

Mobile subscriptions in the UAE in June stood at 14.9 million; Etisalat had 8.29 million, du had 6.65 million, according to the research firm Informa Telecoms & Media.

About 87 per cent of subscribers are prepaid customers. The prepaid market is traditionally not significantly affected by mobile number portability.

Osman Sultan, du’s chief executive, had said that mobile number portability was not a “game changer” any more. It would have been more favourable for du four years ago, but the process was delayed because of technical glitches.

Petr Molik, the investment bank Menacorp’s head of financial advisory, said du was expecting to attract some of Etisalat’s high-value and corporate clients by offering better pricing and making it easy for individuals and companies to switch providers.

While neither Etisalat nor du publish information on the percentage of customers that switch providers, research from the cloud computing company Dropbox suggests that the “churn rate” for both UAE operators stands at 32 per cent every year.

In Bahrain, only 2.2 per cent of the country’s mobile subscriber base made use of mobile number portability; in Oman, it was just 0.25 per cent, according to the market research firm International Data Corporation.