Wireless providers anticipate rush when deadline kicks in

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm

Wireless providers anticipate rush when deadline kicks in

By Elizabeth Geldermann, of SBT

The major cellular phone service providers in the nation will be watching with great apprehension when the Nov. 24 deadline for wireless number portability kicks in.
The top four cellular carriers in Wisconsin, by order of market share, are U.S. Cellular, Cingular Wireless, Sprint PCS Wireless and Verizon Wireless, according to industry sources.
Although the top carriers have spent money and time to implement their wireless local number portability (WLNP) systems, U.S. Cellular, Cingular and Verizon say they are waiting to see what happens and hope Nov. 24 runs without a glitch. Representatives of Sprint did not respond to requests for information for this report.
All of the major carriers contacted are confident WLNP will not hurt their businesses, but will aid in attracting new customers.
However, U.S. Cellular president and chief executive officer John Rooney says the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) failed to set specific regulations for its portability mandate, causing uncertainty among the carriers.
"The whole process of portability has been badly mismanaged by the FCC," Rooney said. "I would like to see a better set of rules, a better playing field. This is a very complex process, and we don’t have a single standard."
Rooney said the FCC "suggested" a 2.5-hour time for the carriers to port a customer’s cell phone number. However, that suggestion is not a standard and may not be fulfilled by every carrier, he said.
"If there was a standard, we would be competing on the important thing, which is the level of service to customers, especially small-business customers," said Rooney.
Rooney said U.S. Cellular has spent 18 months preparing and making sure its system is ready.
Verizon Wireless originally opposed the FCC portability mandate and took the issue to court, according to Carolyn Schamberger, spokeswoman for the company’s Midwest region.
"The FCC said WLNP would help competition, and we think the wireless industry is one of the most competitive industries out there," said Schamberger. "But in July, when the court ruled that the regulation was going to pass, we stepped away and realized it would happen and our customers want it to happen. Instead of fighting, we are going to be ready come Nov. 24."
As the portability deadline approaches, the major wireless providers have been investing in their networks to prepare for an even more competitive marketplace.
According to Schamberger, Verizon has since spent $60 million to implement its porting system nationwide, including a new state-of-the-art call center in Tennessee that will specifically handle WLNP issues.
Verizon continues to focus on network quality improvement nationwide by investing $4 billion in network improvements. In Wisconsin alone, Verizon has spent $32.5 million for system improvements. Schamberger said.
U.S. Cellular, AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless and Nextel Communications also have been spending up to $100 million in their systems to improve their quality of service.
Cingular is dealing with the potential misunderstandings between carriers and customers by posting a checklist on its Web site, www.cingular.com (see accompanying list), according to company spokeswoman Sylvia Manrique.
"We are trying to educate customers to make sure they know exactly what is going on, where and when, and what they should expect," Manrique said.
Ready or not, WLNP is coming Nov. 24, and at this point, all analysts, customers and carriers can do is sit back and see what happens.
"WLNP allows the issue to turn back to quality," said Susie Falk, a spokeswoman for Verizon in Milwaukee. "People are going to have a type of network where calls are not going to be dropped, and they know they can pick up the phone and receive a good connection."
"U.S. Cellular has and continues to be a supporter of WLNP, and we think it is a great thing," Rooney said. "We have spent years cultivating relationships with our customers and look forward to more coming to us."
The first year of wireless number portability will cast a cumulative cost of about $1 billion on the industry, according to Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) in Washington, D.C.
According to Tom Lenard of the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF) in Washington, D.C., the estimated cost for the first five years of WLNP, industry-wide, is $12.4 billion.
Those expenses will go toward building databases and configuring software to record numbers switched among the carriers; building support for the systems, software and hardware databases; creating communication channels; and training customer contacts in retail and customer service.
Lenard and Larson said the implementation costs have been recovered by the carriers through the regulatory programs fee on wireless customer bills.
The costs translate to about $1.60 per customer per month.
Verizon has publicly stated it will not charge customers a monthly recovery fee, Schamberger said.
From a competitive standpoint, wireless providers are hopeful their respective systems will position their companies to gain, rather than lose, customers.
"We think WLNP is a big change for the industry. However, it does not change the fundamentals," said Rochelle Cohen, spokeswoman for AT&T Wireless. "Consumers will base decisions on the same facts as before: coverage or quality of network, devices available, value and trusted brands."

Nov. 14, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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