Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm
Wireless number portability deadline looms
Lack of uniformity could cause mass confusion
By Elizabeth Geldermann, of SBT
Cell phone customers eager to switch to a different wireless carrier may want to hold the phone until confusion over a federal local number portability mandate is resolved.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set a Nov. 24 deadline for cell phone service providers to make wireless local number portability (WLNP) available to customers in the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the nation.
Southeastern Wisconsin, defined by the FCC as Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties, is included in the list of the largest MSAs, according to agency spokeswoman Chelsea Fallon.
The federal mandate requires wireless service providers in those markets to allow their subscribers to keep their local cell phone numbers when they switch to different carriers.
"WLNP gives customers greater freedom, flexibility and benefits by switching to a new carrier or by giving them leverage with their existing carrier," Fallon said.
Although the FCC is mandating portability, the agency did not establish a uniform system of how the wireless providers must comply to meet the mandate. Thus, the providers have been devising their own strategies and systems to comply and provide portability for customers.
The lack of uniformity could cause some confusion when the deadline kicks in Nov. 24, according to industry analysts.
"If I were a sophisticated cellular customer, I would let things soak in for a couple of weeks. It is a brand new system, and we don’t know how everyone is going to behave," said U.S. Cellular president and chief executive officer John Rooney.
"We have estimated 10 million to 12 million customers will go in the first 12 months, and 70% will port in the first four months," said Roger Entner, program manager of the Yankee Group, a Boston-based research and consulting firm.
The Yankee Group estimates that 40% of the portability requests after Thanksgiving could end up going through the system manually, due to information input problems.
According to Entner, when a customer’s information is entered into a new carrier’s system and does not exactly match the old carrier’s information, specialists will have to verify the information and then enter it by hand.
"It is like flying. You have to give consistent identification," said Entner. "If other things go wrong, like inconsistent Social Security numbers, addresses, etc., then we are talking about serious stuff."
Entner expects Nov. 24 to produce a customer service overload for wireless carriers, as their portability systems have not been thoroughly tested.
Allen Nogee, a principal analyst at In-Stat/MDR, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based technology market research firm, believes consumers have pent-up demands for number portability.
"The churn in the wireless industry has been very high anyway — in excess of 30% a year," said Nogee. "I think it will go up at least for some time after Nov. 24.
"December is a good time to switch because of low prices due to competition," said Nogee. "It would not be a bad time to switch carriers if you are willing to be sort of a guinea pig and join the crowd. If you are not in a super rush, hold off until January, and the process should be smooth."
"Adding this complicated and time-consuming mandate will make the holiday season even busier. I suggest (consumers) come prepared and armed with extra patience," said Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA).
According to Nogee, most of the major wireless carriers have finally embraced the FCC regulation and are ready to administer their portability systems.
However, even wireless provider company officials are leery about how Nov. 24 will unfold (see accompanying story).
Ultimately, businesses that rely on equipping their staff with cell phones could benefit from the portability of numbers.
Beth Crivello, director of public relations for Core Creative, Milwaukee, said WLNP will be an aid for small businesses. Crivello pays for her cellular service through a company plan and said she would have a difficult time maintaining client contacts if she had to change her cell phone number.
"There are a lot of relationships you take on with you from position to position that are always important to you in your life and career," said Crivello. "It is important to know you can have more freedom and opportunity to have your phone service and everything change with you as your life changes."
The FCC has set a May 24, 2004, deadline for the wireless industry to provide portability for the entire nation, including the geographic areas not included in the top 100 markets covered by this month’s deadline.
Nogee said the new portability mandate will expose giant carriers that don’t have good customer service.
"WLNP is good for the customers and bad for the industry," said Entner.
"The proof is in the pudding. The industry is trying to make this as problem-free as possible to eliminate problems. Smaller carriers will be the biggest victims, and come May 24, it will be for whom the bell tolls."
Nov. 14, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee