After years of failed attempts, mobile number portability (MNP) is set to launch in China on December 1.
If the provincial trials are any guide, as many as 20 million people will port to another operator between now and Chinese New Year.
The three telcos have been running pilots in five provinces since September, with 3.16 million users, or 1.8% of the customer base, choosing to change operators.
But not without difficulties. The biggest complaint from consumers was of being locked into decades-long contracts, China Business Network reports.
Many found they were handcuffed to their service provider until 2050 and quite a number had 100-year contracts. One social media user reported being stuck with an agreement that expired in 2852.
Customers were also being hit by demands for excessively high "compensation" in order to change telcos, according to Lu Chuncong, a senior official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
He called out the telcos for "setting up system obstacles, violating the number porting regulations and affecting user experience and perceptions."
Speaking at a ceremony to launch MNP on Wednesday, Lu said the state-owned operators had invested around RMB30 billion ($427 million) in establishing a nationwide MNP capability over the past eight months.
But tests by the industry research body, China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), had found the system sometimes shuts down.
Users complained they could not access the Internet or recharge, or they could not use some existing applications or services, he said.
Underlining the difficulting of regulating the industry in the absence of a national law, Lu said that as result of the irregularities, the ministry would "strengthen the guidance and supervision" of telcos.
The MIIT had now set up an inspection team of more than 500 officials. CAICT would continuously monitor the portability network and back-end capabilities, focusing on monitoring "illegal shutdowns, interruption of system services and irregular interaction with users," Lu said.
To prepare for MNP, the operators have completed more than 1 million network testing projects. China Mobile says it has trained up more than 80,000 staff, while China Unicom has set up more than 2,000 work teams.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading