Telephone number portability for consumers switching suppliers
1.1 This Statement sets out changes that Ofcom is making to the rules governing number portability in the UK. We are making those changes to protect consumers from problems arising from the way calls to ported fixed and mobile numbers are routed and to make the process of porting mobile numbers easier for consumers.
1.2 Number portability is the facility that makes it possible for consumers to retain their telephone number(s) when they change provider. In Ofcom’s view, consumers should not only have the ability to retain their phone number (as they have had for many years) but should also be aware of this ability and should be able to obtain number portability easily, reliably and conveniently. Ofcom considers that the UK arrangements no longer serve the interests of consumers in the most appropriate manner, as demonstrated by comparison with international best practice.
1.3 Ofcom has decided that it is time to make changes to the porting process in order to protect consumers from deficiencies in the way calls are routed and to ensure that the process of porting mobile numbers is as convenient as possible for consumers, which may promote competition in the sector.
1.4 The consultation entitled Review of General Condition 18 – Number Portability, published by Ofcom in November 2006 (the “November 2006 Consultation”), consulted on proposals to change the existing arrangements including the introduction of a Common Database (“CDB”) for routing calls to ported numbers and a reduction in mobile porting lead times. After considering responses to that consultation exercise, Ofcom concluded in the statement Arrangements for porting phone numbers when customers switch supplier, published by Ofcom on 18 July 2007 (the “July 2007 Statement and Consultation”), that:
- industry should establish a CDB in order to allow direct routing of calls to fixed and mobile ported numbers, thereby resolving the problems caused by failed networks; and
- mobile porting lead times should be reduced to a maximum period of two working days from 31 March 2008.
1.5 Whilst Ofcom had concluded that it was appropriate to require providers of fixed and/or mobile services to establish a CDB to deliver direct routing of calls to ported numbers, Ofcom set out for further consultation a number of options in relation to deadlines for deploying the CDB in the July 2007 Statement and Consultation. The July 2007 Statement and Consultation also set out proposals for further reducing mobile porting lead times from two working days to near-instant (less than two hours) and for making the process recipient-led.
Routing of calls to ported fixed and mobile numbers
1.6 At present, subscribers (mobile or fixed) who port their numbers 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 to their ported numbers. Ofcom considers that customers should not remain reliant on their former supplier in this way. As more suppliers enter the market using new technology and innovative business models, the risk of failure continues to grow.
1.7 Ofcom has, therefore, decided that calls to ported numbers must be routed directly to the consumer’s new provider. This offers the following benefits:
- Customers who have ported their number to a new supplier (perhaps many years earlier) will be protected from the risk of losing incoming calls if their former provider should fail commercially or technically.
- Existing customers of failing providers will be able to port their number to a new viable provider.
- Quality of service (call quality/congestion) will no longer risk being degraded by the customer’s former provider if that network is unable to match the quality standards achieved by the customer’s new provider.
- Ported customers will be able to enjoy innovative new services even if these are not supported by the former provider, and there will no longer be a risk that launch of such services, to the generality of consumers, may have to be delayed until all providers from whom numbers have been ported can support the new services.
- Calls will be routed more efficiently, enabling substantial costs savings to be achieved, which can be expected to be passed onto customers in a competitive market. The efficiency savings will also enable the costs of implementing direct routing to be recovered by providers.
1.8 To achieve these outcomes, Ofcom is requiring UK industry to co-operate to develop a shared CDB which will hold details of all ported numbers and enable calls to ported numbers to be routed directly, without reliance on the customer’s previous supplier. The CDB will hold both fixed and mobile numbers.
1.9 Ofcom has concluded that the costs of deploying this solution will be outweighed by the benefits if direct routing is implemented by fixed networks as and when they deploy Next Generation Networks (“NGNs”). Mobile networks are already capable of interrogating databases on a call by call basis to determine how calls to ported numbers should be routed. The implementation challenges faced by providers of fixed services and mobile services are, therefore, different and the timetable which Ofcom is mandating reflects this.
1.10 Having considered responses to the July 2007 Statement and Consultation, Ofcom has concluded that arrangements for directly routing calls to ported numbers must be implemented as follows:
- Communications providers to use all reasonable endeavours to establish a CDB ready to be populated with data, as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, no later than by 31 December 2008.
- CDB to be populated with all ported mobile numbers as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, no later than 1 September 2009, and with all ported fixed numbers as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, no later than 31 December 2012.
- All mobile providers to be required to directly route all calls to ported mobile numbers as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, no later than 1 September 2009.
- All other calls to ported numbers (fixed and mobile) to be directly routed as soon as reasonably practicable and, in any event, no later than 31 December 2012.
1.11 Ofcom has concluded that early implementation of the CDB is needed to provide clarity to communications providers, enabling individual planning of interfaces and applications. Ofcom considers it appropriate for fixed ported numbers to be populated on the CDB as and when the exchange serving each ported number is upgraded to NGN, and calls to ported numbers originating from such exchanges should be directly routed from the same time.
1.12 In Ofcom’s view it could also prove reasonable that, from that time, calls terminating on lines connected to such exchanges and originating from mobile networks or from other upgraded exchanges of fixed networks should also be directly routed. In this way, the proportion of calls which are direct-routed to ported numbers originating from and/or terminating on fixed networks should increase progressively, and Ofcom’s expectation is that this progressive increase should generally occur in step with the deployment of fixed NGNs.
1.13 Ofcom considers the 2012 deadline for implementing direct routing for fixed line numbers is a firm deadline. Ofcom would review this only if developments in the industry gave rise to a substantial case for doing so, for example if large-scale NGN investment plans were delayed materially. It is not, however, Ofcom’s intention that timeframes for implementing NGNs should be driven by the obligation to deliver direct routing.
1.14 Ofcom has also concluded that General Condition 18 should be modified to give Ofcom the power to make directions in respect of the nature of the CDB in order to ensure that deadlock does not occur in negotiations over the establishment of the CDB.
Process for porting mobile numbers
1.15 Ofcom considers that the process of porting a telephone number should be consumer-friendly, quick and simple. Ofcom has concluded that the existing process of porting a mobile phone number relies too much on customers to co-ordinate the actions of their old and new suppliers. The process may also deter providers from recommending to new customers that they should bring their old number with them (which may explain the very low levels of consumer awareness of the right to port mobile phone numbers). Ofcom has concluded that consumers should not have to contact their existing supplier before the process of porting their number can start, and that gaining (“recipient”) providers should be empowered to lead the process (i.e. the process should be “recipient-led”).
1.16 Ofcom has also concluded that, even after lead times have been reduced to two working days from 31 March 2008 (as mandated by Ofcom in July 2007), the process for porting mobile phone numbers may be reduced still further as new recipient-led processes are developed. It should be made near-instant. Ofcom considers that shorter port lead times will ensure that the process does not discourage consumers from exercising choice and thereby from promoting competition.
1.17 In Ofcom’s view, a recipient-led process will offer the following benefits:
- It will provide greater convenience for customers who would have ported in any event, but who will no longer have to liaise between their old and new providers.
- It will remove the disincentive on recipient providers to promote porting (which arises from the threat that prospective new customers may be persuaded not to switch when they are required to re-contact the donor provider to arrange for their phone number to be ported). Greater consumer awareness of the option to port can be expected to lead to:
- more customers electing to port their number; and
- more customers switching who, absent awareness of the option to port, would have considered a switch involving a number change unacceptable.
- As a consequence of the process being simpler (as well as more widely known about), more switching customers will port their number when they switch. These customers would otherwise have incurred the inconvenience and possible
- Convenience, ease and speed in porting mobile numbers will not only deliver a real consumer benefit but will also facilitate further switching in the retail mobile market. Competition may be strengthened as a consequence of consumers’ increased propensity to switch.
1.18 Ofcom has concluded that the recipient-led process should also be completed near-instantly (in no more than 2 hours) because:
- A near-instant process further improves the customer experience, enabling recipient providers to offer customers the ability to go into a mobile phone shop, choose a new service provider and have their new SIM receiving calls to their old number potentially before they return home.
- Consumers want a fast porting service, and a recipient-led process using a CDB can be achieved near-instantly at very modest incremental cost - thus ensuring that the portability process does not act as a disincentive to switching.
1.19 Having considered responses in respect of proposed changes to the process for porting mobile numbers, Ofcom has concluded that mobile providers should implement a recipient-led, near-instant (no more than 2 hours) process for porting mobile numbers by 1 September 2009.
1.20 The obligation to offer mobile porting in less than two hours will rest with the donor provider (who may otherwise have incentives to delay the process). If for any reason the recipient provider, or the customer, wishes to operate to a slower timeframe, this will be permissible, and not in breach of General Condition 18.
1.21 Slamming and mis-selling of telephone services are a significant problem for UK consumers, in both fixed and mobile services. When Ofcom began considering this issue, mis-selling in the mobile sector was not a significant issue but, during the first half of 2007, the incidence of mis-selling and slamming of mobile phone services increased sharply. Growing numbers of customers found that they had been switched between suppliers without their express knowledge and consent.
1.22 Ofcom does not consider that a near-instant recipient-led process for porting mobile numbers will necessarily give rise to more slamming and mis-selling. Ofcom notes that new technology, such as SMS, has been used in other international markets and offers scope for informing consumers, in an industry standard format, that a phone number is about to be ported, or that a new contract is being entered into. Ofcom also expects donor and recipient providers to devise standardised and appropriate processes for ensuring that customers’ contracts with donor providers are terminated (where this is what the customer wishes) and that customers are made aware that the right to port a number does not release them from contractual liabilities arising during a minimum term.
1.23 Ofcom will monitor closely the adequacy of these arrangements as industry develops and rolls out the new process, and will take appropriate actions should these safeguards be insufficient. Ofcom will be consulting on the wider question of fixed and mobile migrations and switching and, separately, on the specific issues raised by the recent growth of mobile slamming.
1.24 On this occasion, Ofcom has not considered changes to processes for porting fixed numbers. The time which this process takes is generally driven by the time needed to make physical changes to network infrastructure, rather than the time taken to port the number. Ofcom notes, however, that the European Commission has proposed that porting lead times for fixed as well as mobile numbers should be reduced to less than one day. Whilst Ofcom is not proposing to require a reduction in lead times for the porting of fixed numbers at this time, Ofcom observes that the existence of a CDB of ported numbers may facilitate improvements in the process for porting fixed-line numbers.
1.25 Ofcom has set out in Annex 2 the consequent changes to General Condition 18 to require Communications Providers to provide portability in accordance with the conclusions set out above.
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