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Ofcom to start new number mobility consultation

Another attempt to herd network cats on porting

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Following years of legal filibustering from the incumbent networks, the UK communications regulator, Ofcom, has published new consultations on both the technical management and customer experience involved in moving a mobile-phone number.

Right now it's supposed to take two days to port a number between mobile network operators, though getting a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC) can add a few days on to that, and the old network gets to keep control of the number while forwarding on calls and collecting the termination fee on behalf of the new host. Both are things that Ofcom has been trying to change against a background of legal challenges and industry indifference.

Ofcom would like to see the time reduced to a day, with the need to get a PAC from one's existing network removed. Such a "recipient led" process would mean that if one moved from, say, 3 to O2, then one would ask O2 to take over one's number and never have to speak to 3 again. But as it stands today, 3 still manages the number, forwarding calls on to the O2 network and collecting the termination rate to be passed on to O2: which is nice for O2 as 3's termination rate is higher than O2 are allowed to charge for historical reasons*.

If Ofcom can't get rid of the PAC entirely, then it would like to require operators to supply one within two hours, and make them route calls direct from one network to another without all that mucking about with forwarding calls - though even Ofcom isn't prepared to lay out a timetable for the latter stage.

Until that happens, the imbalance in termination fees makes 3's customers particularly attractive to other operators, while the requirement for a PAC gives operators an opportunity to bribe their customers when they try to leave. If you ask for a PAC, you'll almost always get offered a better deal. Operators should be able to provide a PAC instantly, though they can be remarkably reluctant to do so, as shown by this poor chap trying to get his code out of 3:

Removing the need for a PAC should make porting easier for the customer, which explains why the operators have fought so hard against it, as 3 (the notable exception) explains:

"Reform is long overdue so we welcome Ofcom’s return to this issue. Ofcom recognised the failings of the current regime in 2007 and if other UK operators had not derailed the process on a technicality, consumers would have had fast, easy switching this month."

Not that the new round of consultations means anything is going to happen quickly, comments on the technical side (pdf) and the customer experience (pdf) are both invited until the 26th of October. After this, the incumbent operators will no doubt start looking for more ways to derail the process before we all get to switch providers in two hours, like they can in Ireland.

* 3 was a late entrant to the mobile business, so gets to charge a bigger termination fee to make up for it.

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