Instant Number Portability

Ofcom is proposing near-instant number portability, and that ported numbers should be held on a central database rather than being handled by the donor operator.
 
Number portability is the facility that makes it possible for consumers to retain their telephone number when they change provider. This has been available in the UK for several years, but UK arrangements no longer match international best practice. Ofcom believes it is time to make important changes to promote competition and to protect consumers from deficiencies in the way calls are routed.

At present, consumers who port their number to a new network rely, indefinitely, on their original network to forward incoming calls to them. If the original network fails (commercially or technically), consumers will no longer be able to receive calls on their ported numbers. Ofcom considers that this situation is unacceptable, and believe calls to ported numbers must be routed directly to the consumer’s new provider, as happens in most of Europe. This can be done if UK industry co-operates to develop a shared database which holds details of all ported numbers. Ofcom has concluded that migration to Next Generation Networks (“NGN”) technology offers an opportunity to do this cost effectively.

Ofcom is also of the view that the present five day process for porting mobile numbers is too slow and complicated. It is inconvenient for consumers and may also deter providers of mobile services from recommending to new customers that they should bring their old number with them. The existing process may therefore discourage consumers from exercising choice and therefore from promoting competition.

There are concerns that a move to recipient led porting could lead to mis-selling and slamming (switching users to a new network without their knowledge) which have not, to date, been widely apparent in the mobile sector. Ofcom is aware that one reason for the relatively low level of mis-selling and slamming (compared with fixed services) is that switching mobile providers requires a positive act on the part of the consumer (who will therefore be aware that something about their service is changing) by either having to switch SIM cards or starting to use a new mobile handset. In the event that recipient led porting were adopted therefore, it is expected that the industry will take all reasonable steps to ensure that they continue to protect consumers from the risk.

The debate is due to continue until Spetember, and Ofcom will be looking at a two year turnaround from then.