Moving numbers

Above: Taking questions from members of the public and the technology community are, from left to right, Digicel’s Avinash Rambeharry, Head of IP and Switching, TSTT’s acting Head, Regulatory and Police Affairs, Christa Leith, TATT’s Dexter Boswell-Innis, Manager, Networks and Standards, Patty de Haan of Porting XS and Kurleigh Prescod, VP Technology, Columbus Communications. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1031 for March 08, 2016

On February 16, 2016, a small moment in local telecommunications history was marked.

The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) announced that local telecoms providers would sign an agreement that day to allow number portability between their services.

The new feature for local phone users will be implemented at the end of this month for mobile phones and in September for fixed line phone numbers.

This removes the last impediment to the free flow of customers between rival telecommunications carriers, because someone with an investment in a particular phone number now more decisively owns that aspect of their identity and can carry it with them to a new provider.

Some key aspects of the new capability were discussed at a public forum at TATT’s offices on Thursday last week.

A number can be moved between providers of the same kind. Mobile to mobile, fixed line to fixed line, but cannot move across technologies, so you can’t move a mobile number to a fixed line.

The process, which calls for a customer to visit a representative of the carrier they are moving to, is mandated to take no more than three days by TATT, but there is supposed to be only a five-minute cut-over period as the number is moved between carriers and reactivated.

The service costs one dollar per year, which pays the digital clearing house company Porting XS of the Netherlands for their background work in managing the routing of the new ported number database.

Expect the usual amount of supporting evidentiary paperwork to accompany the process for some time, as carriers need documents to prove that you, personally own the phone number. The process should take around half an hour.

Your account must be active, and your outstanding bills paid up before the porting process can begin.

The handset must be carrier unlocked. Account owners are responsible for terminating their contracts and making applicable payments before making the number transfer. Recipient carriers may follow international incentive programmes and pay those termination fees.

If a ported number is disconnected, the number is returned to the donor’s network. If it has been ported more than once, it becomes part of the Porting XS database, which becomes the block holder for such numbers.

The process is recipient-led, and the donor company, the carrier surrendering the number, is not supposed to contact the customer according to the gentlemen’s agreements which govern the process.

There are no established laws governing “win-back” tactics, and it remains to be seen just what happens if one carrier finds itself losing large numbers customers to another.

TATT proposes to amend legislation according to real world need as the process plays out (ICT Consultant Kwesi Prescod has more to say about that here).

Jamaica implemented number portability in June 2015 and to date, 60,000 porting cases have been handled.

T&T was supposed to implement its number portability programme for mobile numbers in February 2015 and for fixed lines in May 2015, according to directives from TATT. Both deadlines were missed.

SMS and voice marketing services keen to minimise cross-carrier calling costs may be able to request copies of the database of ported numbers, since prefix numbers will no longer identify the carrier to which a number belongs.

TATT provides a detailed FAQ about the process on its website as a downloadable file.