Change In Phone Number Porting Process Raises Questions For Retailers

Infrastructure shift not fool-proof
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A system change supporting how mobile numbers are ported is coming on April 8. What’s the impact for CE and IoT Retail?

From my days as an exclusive agent, to founding Best Buy Mobile, to today’s almost automated systems, I have seen customer expectations skyrocket when it comes to mitigation of mobile phone pain points in retail. Over the years, most large consumer electronics retailers have invested heavily in systems and processes to create a seamless customer experience at the point of sale, from Walmart and Target’s respective acquisitions of Simplexity and Consensus, to the greenfield effort behind Best Buy’s internal BEAST. Many of these systems integrate directly into a carrier’s systems to allow for near-real-time order and subscription management.

On April 8, this carefully curated customer experience may be adversely impacted by a change to a critical part of our nation’s telecommunications infrastructure that manages and facilities, amongst other things, the process by which phone numbers are ported from one carrier to another.


A Change is Coming

Beginning April 8, the system and database that governs local number portability (LNP) and call routing in the United States, called the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC), is being cut over to a new system and administrator. This “cutover” will happen one region at a time over the course of six weeks.

For retailers and the consumer, the concept and well-honed process of number portability is seamless, allowing consumers to keep their phone number even if they move geographically within the U.S. or change mobile carriers. For retailers, it’s a foundational tool allowing them to grow their role and compete in the competitive mobile telecommunications marketplace. As retailers, we pride ourselves in flawless execution and take this for granted.

The problem: The technical process by which LNP happens is quite complex. The project to cutover to a new service provider has experienced unwanted delays. As a result, the testing timeline has been significantly condensed and the cutover on April 8 is happening without any viable automated redundancy or rollback plan. It may work perfectly, but there is a risk that could cause severe repercussions for retailers. We have spoken with several retailers who have concerns about how this could affect the customer experience.

Potential Problems: What could happen if something goes wrong?

There are two potential scenarios if the cutover does not go as expected. One is a failure or delay with number porting. If a customer purchases a new phone from a new carrier and opts to keep their existing phone number, the customer’s port request may be accepted but is held in a “pending” state, rendering their new phone useless. Another potential problem is the inability to complete an outgoing call. A user may dial or text a mobile number in their phone book but cannot connect. Additional confusion may surface as others may dial the same number and connect with no problem. These issues are all tied back to the underlying database administered by the NPAC.

While each of these scenarios are unlikely, all are possible.

But while customers may face a poor experience, mobile and consumer electronics retailers may also feel the heat of any issues that arise with the cutover. Customers that sign up for new mobile services or seek to have their numbers ported may experience issues and blame the retailers for incorrectly processing their order. Internet of Things (IoT) devices—which many retailers sell and support—could experience similar issues. What’s worse, the retailers themselves may not know why problems are occurring until a notification eventually trickles down.

Carrier stores may have manual workaround solutions for any issues that arise, but rely on the NPAC the same way as box retailers do. The most significant difference is the ability for a national retailer to have real-time knowledge of the root cause and implications if challenges occur.

So, what can mobile and CE IoT retailers do to prepare for any issues with the NPAC cutover?

1) Stay informed about the pending changes and any surfacing issues.

2) Establish a clear communication plan with mobile carrier partners and ensure they have a process to immediately notify you of any issues.

3) Have ready a flash communication to your store operations team to advise them of how to mitigate any transactional risks, such as deferring any number porting, advising customers of any delays in number porting, or advising customers to immediately contact their carrier with any call or text communications issues. Sales and operations teams should also be informed.

While it’s unlikely the NPAC cutover will experience any major failures, consumer electronics retailers should understand the issues that could occur and develop a communication plan for field personnel. Contact us at if you have any questions.


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