• United States

Number portability is coming

Sep 01, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* Will changing cellular providers improve your service?

The Federal Communications Commission seems to be digging in its heels about issuing a wireless “get out of jail free card” to cellular network customers on Nov. 24.

After previously granting three deadline extensions to wireless carriers so they could prepare for number portability, the FCC now appears to be turning a deaf ear to requests by most of the biggest U.S. operators to further postpone the deadline.

Number portability, which will allow customers to change service providers without having to change their cell phone numbers, is a multifaceted issue. It is only fair to be somewhat sympathetic to the carriers, who are immersed in concurrent network upgrades to support portability and newer 2.5G/3G protocols.

On the other hand, one could argue that if the carriers offered better network and customer service, they wouldn’t be so terrified of losing customers that they are seeking to impose penalties to those who jump ship. In this respect, Verizon Wireless – the only major U.S. wireless network operator no longer seeking to hinder portability – is playing a strong marketing hand.

Customer gripes about cellular service abound, mostly induced by unrealistic service-level expectations set by the carriers. For example, when I recently saw a wireless carrier’s TV commercial claiming that its service “works everywhere, nationwide, exactly the same wherever you go,” I was stunned that the Pollyannaish verbiage got past the corporate legal department.

If nothing else, having their greatest protection from customer churn – owning the phone numbers – disappear should provide carriers with some skin in the game to keep customers satisfied. If you do end up changing carriers, one goal might be to negotiate a more flexible contract with a service-level agreement, since you can’t really know if you will be going from the frying pan into the fire.