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UK mobile punters get swift network switcheroo ability

Still a major faff, though

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Mobile customers can now change networks in 24 hours – if they can be bothered to negotiate the sped-up but still complicated process.

The accelerated process was mandated by Ofcom last year, but the operators have had 10 months to get their systems up to speed. Operators and should now be able to provide a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC) code immediately (or by text within two hours) to their customers. The new operator should be able to connect the customer within the following 22 hours.

That's half the time it used to take. It's hard to imagine that the two-day transfer period has prevented many customers from changing networks, so tightening the process is unlikely to change the industry significantly, and it's a long way from the total reform that campaigners were hoping for.

There remain two significant problems with the UK's porting system. Firstly it remains donor-led; the network that is losing the customer has to provide a PAC code before the customer can leave. Operators are now required to hand over a PAC code immediately (on the phone) or by text within two hours. But extracting the information isn't always as easy as it should be, as this chap talking to Three demonstrates:

To be fair to Three it has apologised for this incident, and claims to be much better now. But this is still indicative of how the rules can be stretched.

The second problem is that numbers remain the property of the donor network, which forwards calls onto the recipient network forever. That means the donor network's termination rate is paid, hurting Three, which is supposed to get a bigger termination rate to provide a leg-up. That also causes huge problems if the donor network goes titsup, which is rare but has happened.

But the industry successfully argued that recipient-led porting would lead to customers being slammed - changing networks without their permission, as happens with gas and electricity suppliers every now and then - and that reforming the call-forwarding system would be ruinously expensive, despite the fact that Ireland and several other countries run such a system without any problems.

The reduction to single-day porting means everyone can claim a victory, despite the fact that it changes very little indeed. But if it was that 48-hour wait which previously put you off changing operators, then Ofcom has a guide showing you how to take advantage of the speedier process. ®

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