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A study panel at the telecommunications ministry is set to propose a new system in which mobile phone users can retain their phone numbers when they switch from one provider to another, ministry sources said Tuesday.

The proposal is expected to be included in a draft report to be adopted during the panel’s meeting Thursday, they said.

After receiving the report, the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry will start working with mobile phone companies to make preparations so the proposal can be put into practice after April 2005, they said.

Under what is known as the “number portability system,” mobile phone users are to pay extra fees if they want to keep their phone numbers when they change carriers. But their mobile e-mail addresses will have to be changed.

Industry officials said the system will greatly enhance users’ convenience but may intensify competition among mobile phone services providers.

NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan’s largest wireless carrier, has been reluctant toward the new system as it will require a huge cost, estimated at 100 billion yen, to alter software programs.

But the study panel has decided to go for the new system because a similar system is already practiced in some countries in Europe and Asia, and in the United States, the sources said.

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