ISPA: Now for the Nuts and Bolts of Non-Geographic Number Porting

Many corporates, SMEs, NGOs and others with 0800, 086 and 087 phone numbers are no doubt looking forward to being able to move their usually heavily-advertised contact numbers to more innovative providers from 7 March without losing those valuable digits.

After 16 years of the partial implementation of number portability, this is the date from which South African business finally ticks off the ability to port non-geographic numbers in much the same way as consumers and businesses can switch networks without losing their mobile or fixed line numbers.

Number portability has been a tremendous boost for competition in the telecoms space with the consumer and more agile, customer-focused providers the big winners. Over 13.5 million mobile numbers were ported from November 2006 to January 2022, averaging over 72 000 mobile ports per month. For geographic numbers, the average number of ports per month is over 18 700 for the period April 2010 to January 2022.

“Things are moving in SA telecoms. Now, businesses from neighbourhood mom and pop concerns with easily-remembered numbers emblazoned on their shopfront windows to large corporates that have spent large amounts of money on helping millions more customers remember their incoming numbers can easily switch telecoms providers,” says Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor to SA’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA).

Greasing the wheels of the number porting process is the Number Portability Company (the NPC), a company now jointly owned by MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, Telkom, Neotel and Liquid Intelligent Technologies . It initially came into being as a result of the 2001 Amendments to the Telecommunications Act which mandated ICASA to: “prescribe measures to ensure that number portability shall be introduced in 2005.” Number ports are always facilitated by the NPC.

While consumers looking for a better telecoms experience most often port by purchasing a prepaid SIM and following the instructions on the new network’s starter pack, the process for porting one or many 0800, 086 or 087 numbers takes longer than the usual 12 to 48 hours, with more steps and variations involved.

Most often, the road to benefitting from more competitive pricing and better service can take up to three working days for one or more non-geographic numbers, or up to ten working days for blocks of 100, 1,000 or 10,000 consecutive non-geographic numbers.

In addition, varying once-off fees can be levied per individual phone number ported and further charges can be applied if whole number ranges are ported. Some recipient networks, however, may offer reduced porting fees or other incentives for many numbers.

Usually, the document that kicks off the non-geographic number porting process is a ‘Porting Mandate’ or similar which instructs the customer’s chosen new network to begin the porting process away from the current provider. This must be correctly completed, signed and submitted to the recipient network together with the necessary supporting documentation. The latter usually includes the most recent phone account indicating all the numbers to be ported, proof of payment of the account, the ID of the person signing the porting instruction and a letter of authorisation giving permission from the company for the numbers to be ported.

Sending the recipient network the latest account invoice from the donor network will usually provide the recipient network with all the information needed to complete the correct porting documentation. Once the documents are in order, the recipient network will submit them to the NPC.

After notification is received from the NPC that the numbers are ready to port, the recipient network will ask the customer for a preferred porting date. The number will be ported in the evening of the port date and numbers will continue working until this time. By 8am the following morning, providers around the country should have updated their call routing, based on the NPC’s database.

Finally, remember that porting timeframes are heavily dependent on the donor network releasing numbers in good time. The recipient network has no contact or influence with the releasing network and only works through the NPC.

Please follow @ISPA_ZA on Twitter.

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