Ofcom Gives Mobile Operators the Hurry-Up

Ofcom has stepped up the pressure on mobile phone operators to give customers a better deal by making it easier for them to keep the same phone number when they switch provider.

The regulator has announced proposals for a new swift and simple process intended to make it easier for mobile customers to transfer their mobile number to an alternative supplier. Ofcom is seeking views on its proposal that, in just over two years, transferred numbers will need to be up and running on the customer’s new network within two hours.

In the meantime, and following a consultation in November 2006, Ofcom is requiring that the current process is completed in just two working days, compared to five days as is the case now.

Ofcom’s objective is to ensure that consumers are able to select a new mobile provider, purchase a new SIM card and receive calls using their old number as quickly as possible. Ofcom also wishes to ensure that there is no reason that mobile phone providers might be discouraged from offering number portability to customers.

The current process is lengthy and places responsibility on the consumer to see the transfer through. Customers looking to switch their telephone number to a new provider must first obtain a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC) from their current provider. They must then wait up to five working days for their number to be transferred to the new network.

Ofcom also has concerns over the routing of calls to transferred numbers on both fixed and mobile networks. Calls are currently routed to these numbers via their former provider’s network. This might lead to problems should that operator experience technical problems or go out of business.

Ofcom’s research shows that of those customers that have switched their number to a new network, about half think the process could be improved. Consumers value a speedy porting process and it may encourage them to take advantage of a competing deal with another provider.

Following consultation, Ofcom has therefore decided that, as of 1 April 2008, all mobile operators must transfer numbers no later than two days after a consumer has decided to switch operator.

Ofcom has also decided that fixed and mobile providers should create a central database of transferred numbers. Ofcom believes this should enable mobile operators to switch numbers to new networks almost instantly, or within two hours, which Ofcom considers will further encourage consumers to exercise choice and benefit from competition.

The database would also enable calls to be routed directly to the new provider. This will minimise the potential for interrupted service should a provider’s network fail.

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