Porting numbers

Over the last three weeks I have listened to many hours of music, interspersed with “your call is important to us”, whilst trying to move my phone number from one provider to another. Amongst a catalogue of mistakes, each time the cheery operator informed me it would take 24 to 72 hours to move my number. This got me thinking…. why does the process take so long?

Step 1: as the phone owner I contact my existing provider, the mobile network operator (MNO), to request my Porting Authorisation Code (PAC). Legally this has to be provided in 2 hours. By then sharing my PAC code with my new MNO I start the process of moving my phone number; or in my case the touch paper to impending chaos.

Step 2: the new phone provider contacts the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) system. This is a UK system, independent from the mobile phone companies, which can move phone numbers around. So here’s the first time wait, the MNP is not an automatic system therefore no phone numbers are moved on weekends or Bank Holidays. If your request to move comes in late on Friday, nothing will happen until the next working weekday.

Step 3: the MNP sets the date that the phone number will be moved and lets both the old and new phone provider know. The day before this port day, the new phone provider (MNO) goes back into the MNP and “locks out” the number – preventing it from going to another network.

Step 4: the big move day has arrived! A Mobile Virtual Network Enabler (MVNE) looks after network connectivity and can transfer numbers on the date set by the MNP. The old provider releases the number and everything whirs into action. The temporary number that the new provider has given is disconnected. This is replaced with the number to be moved in. Next the number is matched up to address details to make sure it has gone to the right phone, plus the billing information is also checked.

Step 5: if all has gone smoothly, the MNP contact the new provider and let them know that the number is good to go.

NB: some phone companies don’t own the physical network, so they are not a MNO but rather a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). MVNO’s rent access onto a MNO network.

Each network provider releases numbers to move at different times of the day, often waiting to bundle up a set of numbers together. Whilst OFCOM say the PAC code must be released within 2 hours, they give the old provider until 3pm to actually release the number on move day. This means the MVNE team may only have a few working hours to move the files, which is why it can crossover into the next working day. Plus the process relies on all the files associated with a number being released and re-assigned correctly and this doesn’t always happen!

New Zealand apparently have an automated system allowing numbers to move in seconds, but to have one of those would require all the UK phone companies to agree. So until then, moving your phone number in the UK (I think!) goes something like:

User gets PAC from MNO_old, user gives PAC to MNO_new, MNO_new contact MNP, MNP set move date and tell MNO_old and MNO_new, MNO_new lock out number, MNO_old release number, MNVE move files and tell the MNO_new all is complete and ta da – the number has moved.

Everyone still with me?!

Ps if anyone finds my old phone number I would very much like it back…