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Cingular: Switching numbers not so simple

The company says cell phone users should prepare for the worst once carriers make it possible for customers to keep their old numbers when they switch to a competitor.

Cingular Wireless says U.S. cell phone subscribers should prepare for the worst once carriers make it possible for customers to keep their old phone numbers when they switch to a competitor.

Because of technical glitches, some customers may lose the ability to get incoming calls for hours, the company warned Tuesday. And others could inadvertently lose the rights to their old telephone number if they cancel their previous service first.

"Many people may welcome the freedom to change carriers and keep their wireless phone numbers, but most are not aware that it can be much more complicated than it sounds," Adam Vital, vice president of wireless operations at Cingular, said in a statement.

The announcement is part of a campaign by various U.S. cell phone providers that oppose the Federal Communications Commission's so-called local number portability (LNP) requirement. The campaign is beginning to intensify as a Nov. 24 deadline approaches for carriers to begin complying with the mandate.

While all carriers say they intend to offer LNP, only Verizon Wireless has stopped battling the FCC over the mandate. Verizon Wireless on Monday began making it possible for subscribers of Verizon Communications, a landline phone company that partly owns Verizon Wireless, to "port" their home or office numbers to Verizon Wireless cell phones. It's also asked the rest of the industry to join in.

But Cingular and the nation's four other carriers still intend to fight the case in court, Vital said. "Several of us are still saying we don't believe the FCC has the legal authority to do this," Owen said. "We think the FCC overstepped its boundaries."