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T-Mobile heeds FCC portability call

The company announces its plan to let subscribers who have switched from five other carriers, and vice versa, keep their phone numbers.

T-Mobile USA has reached agreements with five other major U.S. carriers on the process to let each other's customers switch carriers in November and keep their old cell phone numbers.

The so-called service-level agreement, announced Thursday, is the beginning of an expected avalanche of similar agreements to become public in the next few weeks. The agreement covers any subscriber who switches from AT&T Wireless, Sprint PCS, Cingular Wireless or Verizon Wireless to T-Mobile, and vice versa, according to a statement from T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless.

In the next few weeks, industry insiders expect the nation's top six wireless carriers to announce similar agreements in preparation for meeting the Nov. 24 deadline to comply with the Federal Communications Commission's mandate to allow wireless customers to keep their phone numbers when they defect to other carriers. Nextel Communications has already signed similar agreements with Cingular Wireless and Sprint PCS. T-Mobile's agreement is its first in what's known as "local number portability," or LNP.

While the arrangements signal that carriers intend to comply with the FCC mandate, some companies, such as Cingular, are still trying to get the local number portability requirement overturned in court. Other carriers are