Mobile carriers look to find fault

MOBILE number portability, the biggest event to hit the mobile phone industry in years, has provided major headaches for carriers and consumers in the past week.

As the floodgates opened to MNP on September 25, expectations that customers would be able to swap carriers within a three-hour window proved unrealistic. Vodafone’s porting network crashed for 20 minutes on the first day and Optus came under fire from Telstra for failing to address its technology problems.

MNP allows a customer to switch carriers but retain their mobile number. Customers still under contract are liable to pay out the remaining months or shell out for contract termination fees.

The Australian Communi-cations Industry Forum is overseeing MNP and has enforced strict guidelines on the four carriers – Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Orange.

ACIF guidelines required numbers to be ported a maximum of three hours after the customer had requested the action, with an average time of one hour.

In Hong Kong the average porting time is three days, while in the UK it is between 15 and 25 days.

It appeared the requirements proved to be too ambitious for the Australian carriers in the first few days of operation.

On the day portability was launched, Vodafone’s system was unable to handle the porting requests and crashed. The company asked retailers to process porting applications manually, but there were reports of stores asking customers to come back the next day rather than complete the paperwork manually.

As delays increased, the carriers resorted to blaming each other rather than coordinating their response to the delays. This was hardly an effective strategy, considering that in the fiercely competitive mobile phone market each port requires both the previous and new carrier to work together to complete the service.

Optus was accused of dirty tricks by deliberately ignoring faults in its system to prevent customers from leaving its network. A Telstra spokesperson said between the hours of 9:25am and 7pm it had no contact with the carrier, which was battling a backlog of between 200 and 400 ports, taking an average of four hours.

It is believed Telstra’s system was working within specification in the days after September 25.

Hutchinsson Orange, which operates on the east coast, reported no faults with Vodafone and Telstra ports but had some difficulties with the Optus system.

The ACIF waded into the issue late on September 27 and hosted a meeting between the four carriers. CEO Johanna Plante said 1500 numbers had been transferred between carriers in 36 hours.

“While these problems have resulted in some customer number ports being delayed beyond the specified porting timeframes, more than 1500 customer numbers have been successfully ported or transferred between GSM and CDMA technologies,” she said.

Despite the Australian Comm-unications Authority acknowledging there has been some “teething problems”, the authority has moved to investigate the four carriers this week to determine if they have broken MNP guidelines.

MNP service this week suggests the carriers are coping with demand and the initial rush is over. With a quarter of Australia’s estimated 11 million mobile phone users still locked into their contracts, porting requests should level out in the future as customers switch carriers only when their current plan expires.

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