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Ofcom UK Urges Industry Progress on Phone Number Porting

Saturday, Sep 2nd, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 4,576
Home phone UK handset in red

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has written to the Office of the Telecoms Adjudicator (OTA) as part of efforts to encourage the adoption of changes to improve phone number porting between providers, ideally in time for the revised launch of the One Touch Switch (OTS) migration system for broadband ISPs.

At present the OTS system, which has suffered significant delays (here) and isn’t now expected to be introduced until 14th March 2024, is primarily focused on making it quicker and easier for consumers on any broadband provider to switch ISP – regardless of the underlying physical network.

Phone number porting is also covered by the OTS system, but it doesn’t really do much in terms of tackling some of the long-standing problems with number portability itself. For example, trying to split your home number out from a broadband package (e.g. in order to put it on a VoIP line) remains a tedious nightmare (details), which can result in disconnection. Number porting also remains a somewhat slow and manual process when done separately, which can attract extra porting costs.

In fairness, Ofcom has at least managed to introduce a “Right to Port“, which requires phone operators to provide phone number porting to customers that request it for at least 30 days after the termination of a contract, unless the customer expressly agrees otherwise when ending their contract (mobile operators do this too). This makes it harder for ISPs to shun any responsibility when a number goes missing during a switch.

However, the OTA has been working with the telecoms industry to explore further improvements to number portability, which is something that Ofcom has been trying to keep aligned to the OTS system for hopefully obvious reasons. Sadly, progress on this front has been generally a bit unclear, although the regulator has just written a new Open Letter to the OTA that appears to highlight some positive developments (“express porting“).

Extract from Ofcom’s Letter on 1st Sept 2023

We understand that during the OTS implementation phase some large providers (including in consultation with the Number Porting Executive Steering Group) have worked with the OTA2 to identify and develop solutions for the interactions between OTS and number porting, and that this has led to the initial development of a proposal for an opt-in OTS-specific number porting process (or express porting) to streamline the OTS switching experience.

We understand that the objectives of OTS number porting are to simplify validation (by removing those checks that duplicate aspects of the OTS matching process) and thus offer shorter lead times and a more reliable switching and porting experience. This would also remove ‘cancel other’ which would prevent any risk of its use by losing providers to inappropriately frustrate the process.

We welcome the development of express porting, given the impact this is likely to have on the OTS switching experience and the policy objectives of a simpler and quicker switching process. We are concerned that if express porting is not adopted by communications providers, and in particular those with the greatest number of residential customers, then it may lead to residential customers experiencing a higher likelihood of porting failures or unnecessary delays when switching fixed services including their telephone number via OTS.

We would therefore now like the OTA2 to work with communications providers in scope of OTS rules, including, as appropriate, in consultation with the existing industry number porting groups, to focus wider industry effort on developing and implementing changes to number porting best practice to ensure it fully takes account of the interactions with OTS and achieves a better switching and porting experience for residential customers. We recognise this should not compromise industry’s ongoing preparations for OTS launch on the go-live date of 14 March 2024, however we expect this must happen as quickly as possible thereafter.

Put another way, Ofcom would ideally like express porting to be ready in time for OTS to go live on 14th March 2024, although they appear to recognise that this might not be realistic. But this still doesn’t really go as far as we’d like. The whole number porting system in the UK remains, much as it has done for many years, in need of a total overhaul in order to better facilitate IP based voice solutions and consumer flexibility.

Just to give an example of how tedious the current system can be. Yours truly recently sought to upgrade from FTTC to FTTP on a separate network, but I also didn’t want my home phone to be tied to a broadband provider any more. Sadly, there’s no simple way to separate the internet and phone service, while also enjoying a smooth migration.

Instead of a smooth switch, I first had to order FTTP as a new line and get that installed. Only after that could I action the number port from my old FTTC package because, due to how archaic the current system is, doing this will often automatically cancel or stop your old broadband service too. The catch is that you end up paying the cost of two fixed broadband connections for a period (necessary to avoid downtime), as well as a porting charge.

One of these days Ofcom and the industry might just recognise that, in the digital IP age, consumers expect a bit more flexibility and control over their long-established contact numbers. Similarly, it is not and never has been acceptable for ISPs to lose phone numbers during a service switch, which is an issue that we still see cropping up in complaints. Such issues cannot always be resolved, regardless of what the rules say should happen.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
11 Responses
  1. Avatar photo tech3475 says:

    I had to go two weeks without broadband when porting my number to VOIP, despite the anuses at BT telling me I wouldn’t be disconnected.

    I would like to see the ability to ‘simply’ port a landline number to a regular mobile network like you’d port mobile to mobile network, yes I know of workarounds but this would potentially solve some of my issues and reduce costs.

    1. Avatar photo Brad Jones says:

      You can’t port landline to mobile that is silly.

      What you can do is point to voip provider if you want to use it on mobile.

      Ofcom showing again how useless they are all this should have been in place from the start.

      Their should be compensation for people that end up losing phone number Voda messed up and my father in law who had his number for over 40 years has lost his with Voda making so many excuses up he received 0 comp (cityfiber still has not signed up for it i expect they never will why would you when its optional)

    2. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      “You can’t port landline to mobile that is silly.”

      No, it’s a sensible idea based on the reasonable expectation that in a digital system, numbers should be truly portable. How industry manage it behind the scenes is up to them (and they’ve being doing a poor job on this for years), but it’s logically straightforward and reasonable. At a basic level it’s been possible for years to direct calls between systems and within them. Changing the back office plumbing to enable a number to appear to be natively held on either mobile or landline is only hard because industry choose to make it so.

      I’m sure that this will get the “ahhh…but” response that technical industries specialise in, spouting hokum about either the hardware or industry codes or practices to explain why things can’t be done. And therein is the problem, in every technical industry other than IT, there’s far too many people keen to proudly identify problems that support a status quo, rather than able and willing to seek a solution.

    3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Being able to port a landline to a sim card is an excellent idea as mobile phone plans are invariably better value than landlines plans these days, especially with cellular to landline devices like this:- Bewinner Fixed Wireless Terminal, Worldwide LED Fixed Wireless Terminal Quad-Band GSM 850/900/1800/1900Mhz Alarm With LED Lights Display for Telephone Landlines, Alarms, Recording Boxes(UK Plug) https://amzn.eu/d/4G03Mos

    4. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      Andrew – you seem to have focussed on the technology, but you’ve forgotten that there is still officially a difference in price when calling mobiles vs landlines, especially for those without inclusive minutes in their package and those calling from abroad – how do you close that gap?

      You will probably dismiss this as “proudly identifying problems”, others consider it to be a serious question. Countries like the US do not have this problem because they never differentiated (and they made the mobile user pay for incoming calls).

    5. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      I’ve just seen a company called ONSIM offering landline numbers on a sim card so it may be a very good option.

  2. Avatar photo Anthony says:

    If you are on FTTC I wouldn’t even attempt porting my number over to VOIP. Only if you are on FTTP would I do it.

  3. Avatar photo will tel says:

    Some ISPs don’t seem to want you to have landline number after you go full fibre eg plusnet, EE, shell . . .

  4. Avatar photo binary says:

    I dare say a number of properties and poles will end up having a disused copper pair wire connecting them that would otherwise have been removed when FTTP was installed, as the property resident will run FTTC DSL alongside newly installed FTTP for a short overlap period in order to keep the landline number before porting it over to a VoIP service.

    Of course doing this will only ever be a minority pursuit, but it will mean a load of copper wire infrastructure will remain in place when it may otherwise have been removed (during the FTTP installation) from poles, ducts and the exterior of properties.

    This could potentially lead to issues with Openreach poles at capacity, especially where they are also used by altnets.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @binary

      I’ve heard that Openreach are now telling engineers to remove old copper drop wires when installing fibre for that very reason. Certainly the recent installs near me have had their old drop wires removed.

  5. Avatar photo Peter Gradwell says:

    VoIP Providers and Big Telcos have been telling OFCOM to regulate on this area for years. I’ve run more working groups than I ate hot dinners. All they do is hope that BT will take the initiative and write woolly letters.

Comments are closed

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