It’s all too easy to let milestones pass by without pausing to reflect on the significant achievement they represent.
In late July, a resident in the Auckland suburb of Three Kings became the 100,000th telecommunications customer to take their number with them when they changed service providers. That’s 100,000 customers who have taken advantage of the choices our increasingly competitive telecommunications market now offers.
Number portability, which was introduced in New Zealand on 1 April 2007, allows customers to take residential or business phone, fax and mobile numbers with them when switching between providers
The benefits of number portability are particularly significant for businesses who would otherwise have to change all of their contact information, with a risk of disrupting that vital connection to their customers.
It’s pleasing that the 100,000 milestone occurred in a month that set a new record for number portability (11,562 ports) and saw a step-change in the proportion of local numbers ported due to the impact of local loop unbundling. On average, there is a 50/50 split between local and mobile ports. In July that proportion jumped to 60% local, a trend that appears to be continuing.
To top it off, the 100,000th ported number belonged to a residential consumer who transferred to a VoIP (voice over IP) service provided over an unbundled naked DSL line.
Clearly, the 100,000th port is as much a landmark for the newly competitive environment as it is for portability itself.
Many people don’t realise how complex a job it was to make portability happen. A friend of mine thought that all it took was a big spreadsheet and a couple of macros and he reckoned he could build it in a few hours. In reality, every carrier had to retrofit their provisioning and customer management systems, as well as their business processes.
In addition, a centralised system, the Industry Portability Management System (IPMS), had to be built to enable numbers to be relinquished by one carrier, picked up by another carrier, and the change notified to the rest of the industry. Most of these processes had to be automated to support the expected volumes and achieve some very aggressive service levels.
In total it took approximately $100m and 3 years of hard work across the industry.
Another often overlooked fact is that New Zealand’s number portability system has been relatively trouble-free, unlike many other countries that have faced significant outages and disruptions. That is no accident. There are dozens of people in the telecommunications companies, the TCF and Hewlett-Packard (the operators and maintainers of the IPMS) who put in an enormous effort to ensure that portability continue to run smoothly.
While many would argue that number portability took too long to arrive, it’s hard to argue against the fact that it is delivering now.
The 100,000th port is a milestone worth celebrating.
Chivers is CEO of the Telecommunications Carriers Forum