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Ofcom Makes it Easier to Switch UK Mobile Network Operators

Friday, May 19th, 2017 (2:18 pm) - Score 1,388

Switching mobile operators in the UK will shortly become as easy as sending a text message. Ofcom has proposed changes to the mobile switching process that will introduce a new “text-to-switch” system, which is expect to cost the industry £44 million to implement over 10 years.

At present consumers who wish to swap to a different mobile network (Three UK, Vodafone, O2 or EE / BT etc.) currently have two potential avenues and the one you take depends upon whether or not you intend to keep your phone number (i.e. “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.

However the new system would no longer require you to speak with your existing provider in order to leave their service, which is one of the major causes of difficulties for mobile switchers. Instead people and businesses would simply send a free text message to the provider they wish to leave. The existing provider would then send a special code (Short Code) back, which could be passed on to a new provider who will then arrange the switch within 1 working day

The New Process

* To request their unique switching code, people would text one of two memorable short codes, depending on whether they wanted to keep their mobile number. All mobile providers would be required to use the same short codes.

* The losing provider would immediately respond by text with either the relevant number transfer code (known as a porting authorisation code or ‘PAC’), or with a cancellation code for those who aren’t intending to keep the same mobile number.

* This text reply must also include important information relating to any early termination charges, outstanding handset costs, or pay-as-you-go credit balances. This can be shared by text, online account or phone call. The losing provider must use a different text short code to provide this facility and this must be the same across industry.

* A unique switching code would be valid for 30 days. A customer would be able to pass the code on to their new provider at the point they place an order for their new service, without the need for a further conversation.

* Providers would also be required to publish and promote clear guidance to help customers follow the new process and make informed switching decisions.

On top of that the providers would also be banned from charging for notice periods running after the switch date, which means customers would no longer have to pay for their old and new service at the same time after they have switched (estimates suggest that this could save UK consumers around £10m each year).

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said:

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

Our ‘text-to-switch’ plans would give greater control to mobile customers about when and how they switch, and prevent losing providers from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”

The consultation on these changes will be open until 30th June 2017 and a final decision will then be published this autumn. However there may be concerns that a super easy switching process like this could end up being more open to abuse.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar AndyC says:

    Sounds dangerous to me. Get a phone and change providers without ever speaking to someone to prove you are the legitimate owner of the phone. Good prank potential mind…… well until someone does it to you

    1. Avatar Nucco says:

      I don’t think it’s the humans that add security.

      They can design a text based system that is safe from abuse, perhaps by using a pre-agreed pass phrase at contract negotiation.

  2. Avatar Nucco says:

    I will appreciate not having to spend 30 minutes on hold and then a further 20 minutes telling retentions that no, I don’t want a deal I just want my PAC.

    1. Avatar James says:

      yes! me too!

  3. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Thinking of a few of the smaller new entrants, operating on a shoestring and who might attract the punters chasing the deal, who already seem to ignore e-mails and customer service calls, will texts fare any better? How will Ofcom enforce it across the ever-expanding market which they want to create? Or is it just the usual numbers game with the big boys and the smaller you are the more you can get away with?

    1. Avatar James says:

      Well, unlike phone calls which are hit and miss on recording, text will be a permanent trail even at the EU’s end? They have to keep them for year now also, don’t they?

  4. Avatar George M says:

    But some providers (looking at your Plusnet Mobile) do not support short codes. So how is this going to work for them?

    1. Avatar James says:

      They will have to allow these codes but they are special numbers anyway.

  5. Avatar Matt says:

    Wow… seriously.

    Let’s force operators to spend loads of money so someone doesn’t have to ven put a tiny bit of effort in to making changes t their mobile services.

    OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR REGULATORS…. ARE THEY COMPLETLY THICK… SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH TELECOMS YET THEY TACKLE THE THINGS THAT ARE FINE AS THEY ARE.

    Stupid, stupid stupid…. ahhhhhhhh I’m out.

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