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Ofcom Set Out Easier UK Mobile Network Operator Switching Fix

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 (11:31 am) - Score 867
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As expected the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today proposed a new Gaining Provider Led (GPL) solution as their “preferred option” to make switching Mobile Network Operator’s (O2, Three UK, EE or Vodafone etc.) easier for consumers.

According to Ofcom, 2.5 million people who changed mobile provider in the last 18 months say they experienced at least one major problem during the process (38%). Top among these issues were difficulties contacting their current provider (11%), trouble cancelling their service (10%) or keeping their phone number (10%) and one in five mobile switchers (20%) even claimed to have temporarily lost service.

Unsurprisingly a lot of consumers don’t switch because they’re concerned about the process. Meanwhile consumers who wish to swap to a different mobile network currently have two potential avenues and the one you take depends upon whether or not you intend to keep your phone number (i.e. take “port” it with the service).

The Current Processes

Option 1: A switch which includes a number port requires the customer to obtain a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC) from their current provider (the Losing Provider ‘LP’) and give this to their new provider (the Gaining Provider ‘GP’), who initiates the transfer. Ofcom calls this a Losing Provider Led (LPL) process or “donor led”.

Option 2: A switch without a port requires the customer to organise the stop and start of the old and new service themselves. Ofcom refer to this as a Cease and Re-provide (C&R) arrangement. Essentially this is just like taking out a new service and contract for the first time.

By comparison today’s proposal states that Ofcom’s “preferred option” is to replace this with a Gaining Provider Led (GPL) solution, which is similar to the approach taken with fixed line broadband and phone providers. A GPL fix would put all of the power into the hands of your new provider, thus you’d only need to contact the new provider and they’d automatically handle everything on your behalf.

The regulator is however still consulting on a second option, which would simplify the existing process of obtaining a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC) and allow consumers to request their PAC by text message or online (this is in addition to the current approach of calling the operator directly over the phone or walking into a retail outline).

Sharon White, Ofcom’s CEO, said:

“It is unacceptable for people to be missing out on better mobile deals because they fear the hassle of switching, or are put off having had a poor experience in the past.

We want mobile customers to benefit from speedier, simpler switching, making it easier for them to vote with their feet and take advantage of choice in the market.”

Today’s proposal includes an additional measure to prevent the customer’s old operator from deactivating their SIM card until their new provider has put the service / SIM live, which should reduce the risk from a temporary loss of service. On the other hand it might create some headaches for the billing department, depending upon how efficiently the system can be implemented.

As part of that Ofcom’s new system will also be designed to try and avoid overlapping bills between the two old and new contracts (i.e. double paying), which it achieves by requiring the new provider to inform the customer about their notice period and offer them the chance to defer their switch by up to 30 days.

Apparently providers would be required to start the clock ticking on any notice period from the date that the PAC is requested. Ofcom’s consultation on all of this will be open for responses until 1st June 2016 and a final decision is then expected during the autumn of this year.

One other advantage of using a GPL approach is that this could in theory make it easier for consumers to swap between providers that bundle in broadband, phone, TV and mobile services as they would all be using a similar method.

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