By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Wireless-to-wireless porting agreements are sailing through now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued guidelines clarifying the conditions under which phone numbers must be ported and ordered carriers to port even if they haven't reached porting agreements with one another.
In recent weeks, T-Mobile reached agreements with AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, Nextel Communications, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless. For its part, Nextel reached an agreement with Cingular, having previously concluded an agreement with Sprint PCS before the FCC handed down its Oct. 7 order.
With its order, the FCC responded to carriers who complained they couldn't strike wireless-to-wireless porting agreements in time for the Nov. 24 deadline unless the commission clarified basic implementation rules. Before the directive, different carriers were trying to negotiate different business rules to deny or delay a port, including whether to require payment of early termination fees before authorizing a port. Until the directive, some carriers were also interpreting the FCC's porting mandate in ways that would have severely limited subscribers' porting eligibility (see TWICE, Oct. 13, p. 33).
Meantime, the wireless-to-wireless porting agreements now being hammered out create "terms, definitions and time frames" and specify "technology-based processes" to implement the porting process smoothly, said a T-Mobile spokesman. They cover everything from agreed-upon fields in electronic documents to a target time frame for verifying the eligibility of a particular phone number to be ported to a new phone.
Now that the FCC has spoken on wireless-to-wireless porting, carriers are talking more openly about what consumers and retailers can expect.
T-Mobile, for example, wouldn't restrict porting transactions to its direct channels. Carriers Sprint PCS, Verizon and Nextel previously told TWICE that they wouldn't either. Leap Wireless, however, plans initially to handle all porting requests through its direct channels.
In outlining the consumer's retail experience, Nextel is "doing all we can" to meet the CTIA's agreed-upon target of 2.5 hours to validate a porting request and activate a new phone with the old phone's number, a spokesperson said. "It's unlikely it will happen in less than two and a half hours," she noted. And it's likely to take longer if incorrect information is entered into an electronic terminal or there's other "fallout," she said. In case of fallout, dealers will be transferred to a customer-service center dedicated to handling porting problems.
Once a number is approved for porting, consumers will be able to walk out the door with a phone, but not necessarily with an active phone, Nextel said. Consumers would have to call a toll-free number or check Nextel's Web site to check the status of their port. Until the new phone is active, the old phone will operate as usual. The goal is for service on the old phone to end simultaneously with the activation of the new phone, but it's possible that "for a few minutes" after the new phone is activated, incoming calls will still be routed to the old phone, she noted.
T-Mobile described a slightly different consumer experience. Consumers who walk out the door with a new but unactivated phone will be notified that the porting process is complete via a text message or voice call to the new phone, a spokesman said.
"The way it's supposed to work," he added, is that the subscriber's old phone will work as usual until the new phone is activated.
T-Mobile also noted that it might take from three to 24 hours for a number to be ported to a new phone.
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