Wireless carriers show porting piety

Some U.S. cell phone providers are reportedly offering refunds to customers who have experienced multiple-day delays getting old numbers switched to new phones.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
John Chang thought he was being a realist when he switched cell phone carriers about 12 days ago. He expected his old provider, AT&T Wireless, to experience a few "hiccups" transferring his telephone number to new provider T-Mobile USA.

But as of Thursday, the phone number handoff hadn't taken place. To make matters worse, he's had to keep his AT&T Wireless account active until the switch is completed or else he'd forfeit the right to his old cell phone number. "I thought there would be hiccups...But this is ridiculous," Chang writes in an e-mail. Now Chang is unable to receive incoming calls on his new phone.

T-Mobile USA is soothing Chang's chafing by appealing to his wallet. The carrier won't charge him for any T-Mobile service until the telephone number switch actually takes place, Chang writes.

Such acts of contrition have become common among U.S. cell phone providers, according to many who have experienced multiple-day delays getting old numbers switched to new phones. Other carriers such as AT&T Wireless are crediting the accounts of those who've waited an "unreasonable time" to get their old phone number ported, spokeswoman Rochelle Cohen said.

"We are doing this on a case-by-case basis," she said.

The price of forgiveness is lost revenue, and the total grows larger each day as Chang and other people who've switched carriers continue to wait to get their old telephone number. It's estimated that half of those switching service providers have experienced telephone number porting-related delays.

Instead of 2.5 hours--an early industry benchmark--carriers are routinely telling subscribers it will take five days or more to port telephone numbers.

"We are all trying hard to set some reasonable expectations," Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said.

Carriers are having problems with subtle differences between the records they swap during the porting process, according to customer accounts. Such details must match exactly; if they don't, the computers processing the telephone number switching request grind to a halt.

For example, one frustrated switcher said the process was delayed two days because his full first name appeared on one set of records, and a shortened version was on another.

Two sources said that while all carriers are having problems, AT&T Wireless is the worst offender. The Federal Communications Commission has taken notice as well, giving AT&T Wireless until Wednesday to divulge the nature of the difficulties and the steps the company is taking to address them.

Spokesman Mark Siegel concedes the carrier is experiencing an error rate "north of 60 percent," which is above the industry average. "We continue to be focused on identifying and solving these issues," Siegel said.