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Moving mobile numbers should be instant

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Ofcom has issued a second document on number portability, recommending that customers be able to instantly move their fixed and mobile numbers between networks.

Number portability, the ability to take your phone number with you when you change networks, increases churn - and thus competition - wherever it's been introduced. But while the UK was one of the first places to introduce the capability, it now lags behind many countries in the speed and complexity of the process.

Part of the problem is that numbers are allocated to network operators, and when a customer takes their number to another network, the original operator (known as the donor provider) is still responsible for forwarding connections to that number. If the donor provider suffers technical or financial failure, the ported numbers all get disconnected.

This system also relies on the donor provider agreeing to forward connections, as notified through the issuing of a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC), and processing that can take up to five days.

Ofcom would like to see a central database of ported numbers, which would be responsible for forwarding calls to the appropriate network and would allow networks to take responsibility for a number without waiting for the donor provider to issue any code or other paper work.

Of course, this would make slamming (moving customers onto a new network without their knowledge) a great deal easier, but Ofcom "expect[s] industry to take all reasonable steps to ensure that accelerated processes for porting mobile numbers continue to protect consumers from the risk of mis-selling and slamming".

The ability to instantly port numbers, and the deadline for building the system, is open to debate until 10 September, but Ofcom would like to see the whole system operational (for mobiles at least) two years from then. ®

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