Number portability - UK businesses are being let down - OFCOM need to act

A sorry state of affairs

Number porting may not be the most exciting subject in world but it is clearly important to many businesses, and as a blog topic it is sexier than a piece about the intricacies of rating call usage. Let’s face it, the current state of affairs is a mess. Back in 1996 when the industry (and I mainly mean BT) was told that number portability was to be a right for all customers the UK telecoms industry blazed a trail. It took almost a decade for most of our EU neighbors to catch up. However, since these halcyon days a climate of inefficiency and disappointment has prevailed.

The average time to port in the UK takes 2 days, but what that figure doesn't take into account is the arduous processes put in place by the major telcos. The process from beginning to end can and does take weeks. Conversely, the average time to port in the USA, Canada, Israel and Australia is under 3 hours. We are most definitely getting something wrong as an industry.

Number portability was put in place to provide choice to both businesses and consumers, allowing them to take advantage of new market entrants and technologies in an exciting deregulated world. Instead it has become a minefield of processes, industry acronyms and (in my own personal opinion) stalling tactics from major telcos often to prevent churn.

My personal plea to OFCOM is this: make change happen and keep in mind the business consumers who are the lifeblood of our industry.

My proposal

Currently all number portability information is held by the telco who originally owned the number. Numbers are onward routed from one service provider's infrastructure to another, and the numbering data is only available from the major telco operators, who will not distribute it. It is a backward and complicated way of managing number portability information.

So, my proposal is this. Scrap the current system. Instate a single body (funded by a portability charge) that owns, operates and routes all numbers. That single body acts as a ‘clearing house’ and can point any number at any service. Simple you would think. Changing voice provider would be like changing gas or electricity supplier.

Unfortunately, this was on the cards back in 2009, but the telcos decided to use the court system to scrap the idea. I would imagine their motives were concern over the potential churn rather than the needs and requirements of their customers.

This system is currently working well in the USA, Canada, Israel and Australia both their telcos and regulators are leading from the front to drive customer choice.

So, come on OFCOM – play your part in stimulating growth, jobs and opportunity in the UK.