Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, ‘escaped’ from an exploding cage suspended above a square in downtown Toronto yesterday to mark the introduction of mobile number portability (MNP) in Canada, which came into effect today. ‘Finally, people will be able to be free,’ the billionaire declared after performing the stunt. Branson’s group runs MVNO Virgin Mobile Canada, which has around 400,000 subscribers and operates over Bell Mobility’s network. Virgin hopes MNP will help speed it towards its goal of one million Canadian customers. While Bell and its main mobile network operating rivals TELUS and Rogers have kept relatively quiet regarding number portability, Virgin is focusing on a marketing campaign offering various promotions for those who choose to switch provider. A spokesperson for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association said yesterday that it had no firm expectations as to the number of customers likely to switch. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database notes that Canada, with around 18.5 million mobile subscribers at the end of 2006, is today introducing MNP for Bell, Rogers and TELUS customers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, before extending the service nationwide to all wireless carriers, including SaskTel and MTS, by 12 September 2007. In the neighbouring USA, MNP was implemented on a national basis in 2004, with over eight million number ports taking place in its first year, according to US federal data. GlobalComms shows that over 75% of Canadian mobile users are on contracts, making them unlikely to port their number immediately due to financial penalties incurred.