March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 01.04

Hurry Up and Wait

Wireless number portability: trading in the devil you know.
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By Teresa von Fuchs




Back in August 2003, we reported on the impending FCC mandate requiring cellular carriers to implement wireless number portability (WNP) by November 24, 2003. At the time of this writing, with that deadline only three weeks away, reports from the field don’t look promising.

Bob Egan, president and founder of Mobile Competency a market analysis and consulting company, gives this advice: “wait.” In a report titled “Wireless Number Portability: This Ain’t Y2K,” Egan issues a few warnings and some tips for companies looking to port.

If you’re thinking of switching your business’ carrier and porting your numbers, wait at least until the end of the first quarter of 2004 is Egan’s main point. Waiting is the only sensible option considering the progress—or lack thereof—carriers have made on this mandate. “First, if you take just the largest six operators, they don’t even have agreements with each other,” Egan remarked as the deadline was only a few weeks away. “Forget about testing, forget about logistics and staff, they can’t even agree on contracts.”

Aside from Egan’s advice to wait, he issued these four questions as mandates for any CIO thinking about switching carriers:

1. What are the guaranteed minimum and maximum times between when your porting process begins and when it’s complete?

2. How do you guarantee that one or more of my current phones won’t go dead before the porting process is complete?

3. What could delay or stall the porting process?

4. Will any of my enhanced services—text messaging, e-mail, wireless data—port? If back office systems have to be modified to transfer data to the new network, who will do that?

Egan also issues a warning about asking why a company would want to port. “We’re worried that people want to change carriers based on emotion and due to qualitative issues,” reports Egan, “and we’re worried they’re going to leave the devil they know for the devil unknown.” The laundry list of why a CIO would want to change carriers—voice quality, coverage, handsets—are typically qualitative issues.

But one of the concerns raised by Egan is the idea of switching without looking into all the issues surrounding wireless service. “The first time around, businesses generally did their homework when they went out to look for a carrier,” says Egan. “They looked at things beyond price, things like coverage, network capacity, usability, et cetera.” But he worries that companies wanting to switch because they are upset won’t necessarily do this homework again.

According to Egan’s report, when wired line number portability went into effect, roughly 70 percent of ports failed, and 30 to 40 percent still fail. With that history, Egan expects at least 30 percent of wireless ports to initially fail. With no guarantees that the carriers will pull this off, Egan stresses, “Wait at least until the end of the first quarter 2004—and before you move, go back and do your homework.”
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