back to article Vodafone takes Ofcom to court over number porting

Vodafone is mounting a legal challenge to Ofcom's call for mobile operators to allow their customers to shift their number to another network within two hours. It is already possible to take your number with you when you shift network but it takes a few days. Ofcom said in July last year that it wanted the process speeded up - …

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Stop

Holy Shit! A valid point from a Mobile Network!

I'm amazed.

Vodafone actually have a valid objection to this.

I was involved at one of the networks in setting up the current 5-day transfer some years ago, following the debacle of the original system that took week after week after week with no-one having any real idea what was going on. The current system is a huge, huge improvement.

Attempted slamming is a problem under the current system, and under the previous one. But, it can't actually occur (without fraud where someone impersonates the customer) because:

* the customer has to request the PAC from current provider, which is then provided by the customer to the new provider within a 30-day validity period.

* the current telco **HAS** to have contact with the customer in order for the above to happen, and has the opportunity to attempt to "retain" the customer by making offers etc.

* the customer takes the PAC provided by his/her current telco to the new telco, and sets up a new account with them.

* the number is ported 5 business days following.

At any time during the process, the customer can cease the process. Because the customer MUST have contact with the current telco in order to initiate the process - no one else can do that "on their behalf" the way energy companies, landline companies etc can - it's pretty good at being proof against slamming fraud.

If the Ofcom-proposed reduction of timescales comes in, you can guarantee that they will "remove the burden of initiating the transfer from the customer" - duplicating the way things work in the energy and landline markets where customers are suckered into "just sign here to confirm I've given you a quote" and find out when they start getting bills from a new network what's happened, and that they're now in a new 18-month contract. It can be remedied, but it's a pain - both for the customer and the telcos involved (especially O2 and Vodafone who have a lot of their customers through intermediaries).

I hate to agree with Vodafone, but, well, in this instance I have to. OK, so they're only doing it to avoid costs and pain, but even so...

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Coat

Up To A Point ... @Mike

Interesting argument, and I'm certainly not in a position to argue.

But I don't see why you've elevated "5 days" to become some magic number that cannot be challenged.

Would four days really open the floodgates to slamming? Three days? What?

The 'minimum safe period' is at the heart of your argument, but you say nothing to justify the minimum being five.

Intuitively, it seems that two hours is fairly loopy and utterly unnecessary, but in this Star Trek age, a couple of days seems reasonable. Unless there's a reason why not?

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Surely mobile slamming is impossible

I don't understand how mobile slamming could work. Unless the other operator forcibly removed the previous operator's SIM and then inserted their own into the customer's phone, or otherwise forced them to use a new handset with new SIM already inserted, then the new operator would have the number but not a lot else.

@Mike Crawshaw: As for that resulting in someone being in an 18 month contract, although it would be inconvenient to contest it I'm sure it couldn't be binding.

Also, the most valuable part of the process you've described happens before the five day wait.

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Paris Hilton

2 hrs is too quick, avoid slamming

As someone who has been slammed by a utility company, first I knew about it was when they contacted me to say they were sorry to be losing me as a customer, I would agree with the first comment that 2 hours is too quick, and that it will lead to problems, I changed mobile phone companies a couple of years ago under the current system, it took one week, and on the day it happened, one phone stopped working, and the other started working, wheres the problem there? I had two phones in my pocket for one day, and there was little or no chance of me being slammed, which will not be the case if the rules are relaxed, and a 2 hours system is created.

The Paris angle? Didn't she have some trouble with her mobile once?

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turnaround

I work for VF ireland, currently theres a 24 hour porting policy, between all networks, this may actually generate a larger number of ports as customers get their networks changed over every couple of days to grab whichever special offer is being promoted.

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Black Helicopters

In Response...

@ Andrew Heenan

I don't consider 5 days to be a cast-iron rule day - I simply contest the 2 day proposal, followed by 2 hours. Both of these, in my experience, wouldn't be suitable. I'm sure that 4 days, for example, so that it can be advertised as "within the same week!!!!!!!!" would be feasible.

My argument is that in order to reduce to 2 days / 2 hours, the process would need to be changed greatly. Reducing the time for the switch is going to lead to reductions in each area of the process, and see a likely increase in errors.

@ Matthew Revell

Although the slam couldn't "force you to use the new SIM" - the port process happens as follows:

* old telco switches off your SIM and proceeds to route calls to your number to the new network.

* new telco switched on your SIM some hours later.

After your old telco switches off your SIM, you're stuck. When you figure out your SIM isn't working, that's all you know. Unless you have previously received anything to indicate a new telco is providing your service, all you know is that your phone doesn't work. So, although they can't force you to use the new SIM (if you have it), your old one can become inoperable.

Regards the contract - yes, you would be able to get out of it in a legal sense, but it is a LOT of messing about, both on your part, and on the part of the telcos involved. Especially if you've ported previously (e.g. started on O2, ported to Voda, now been slammed to Orange as O2 need to get involved again). I don't want any of that!!

The only part that happens before the 5-day wait is the punter requesting the PAC from his current telco. The confirmation and attempt to retain etc take place during the 5 days, and form (IMHO) the most valuable part of the process - during the period I was with O2, I did come across a number of occasions where this part of the process stopped someone from porting where they had been misinformed by their new telco (both porting out from us, or porting in based on misinformation at a retailer).

Example: someone is thinking of leaving Voda, but they don't know where. They request a PAC from Voda, and go to Phone Shop X to talk about options. Phone Shop X informs them that they'll take the details down in case the customer decides to port to O2 (because that month O2 are offering the best incentives). The customer does so, on the basis that they are not taking an obligation, and that someone from O2 will call them to discuss further.

In the current process someone from Voda would contact them to confirm their wish to leave, and attempt to retain. This confirmation takes place within the 5 days.

Under the new process, assuming that the rest of the process doesn't change apart from the timescale reduction, Voda now have less than half the time to confirm and attempt to retain. Low-spending customers won't be contacted, because Voda will be targetting high-spenders. Any low-spender in this position will now be ported to O2, and not know anything about it, because there hasn't even been enough time to get his welcome pack & SIM from O2 in the post. Customer is now in an 18-month contract and doesn't know what to do. Retailer X certainly isn't going to help, they have their commission....

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Automated callback

Mike your argument doesn't seem to hold up.

As long as the customer has to be the one to request the PAC code from their own provider then that provider has ample opportunity to give the customer counter offers, they can do it before the transfer process starts.

I can't see how 2 hours or 5 days makes any difference in preventing slamming, the simplest solution would be that as part of the processes a automated system calls the customer and informs them that the number transfer is about to start. This can give them the opportunity to talk to an advicer to cancel the process and has the added advantage the customer knows exactly when the transfer is happening and is without a working phone for the shortest period of time. The current system is annoying in if you are only upgrading your sim you can be left without working phone numbers for a annoyingly long length of time

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Jon

@ Mike's Response

In your example it is the custermers fault for gining their PAC to Phoneshop X. If companies/ofcom made it obvious that once someone has this code they are effectivly given persmission to port you, you would only give it on signing a contract. Only the customer can request this code. Maybe 2 hours is too short but 24hours for voda to give you a call to say hey what you doing is fine as companies seem to have time to pester me prospectivly anyway.

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How come 2 hrs works in Ireland?

I've not heard of slamming being a major issue in Ireland, where I ported 2 or 3 times over a period of years within the 2 hr limit.

I certainly never heard of anyone being slammed either.

Sounds like Vodafone is blowing the issue out of all proportion. The solution is fairly simple too - make the punishment for slamming so stringent that no retailer would dare do it. If all the networks had a slamming punishment clause in their retailer contracts there would be no issue.

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Happy

OK, OK...

Alright, alright I give up!!!! ;-)

Regards Jon's response though, a lot of punters are very unaware as to how the system works, and will believe whatever the phone shop / phone call with a "special offer" etc tells them. They *ARE* told in some situations that, for example, a special offer can be "held" for them if they get, and hand over, a PAC - without committing themselves. They don't know any better, just like people still open attachments on e-mails from people they don't know because they really, honestly believe that it contains pictures of Paris.

As far as automating the call backs etc - that would be great, and could be implemented if we were only looking at the 4 (5?) networks - but a lot of customers of O2 / Voda are still contracted to Service Providers - intermediary companies that handle the billing etc, a relic of the days when Cellnet and Vodafone were the only networks. When O2 introduced per-second billing back in the day, we struggled to get them to accept THAT, so I reckon the chances of getting it done effectively are about nil... these SPs are the real barrier because a UK port can involve the customer, the phone shop, the current SP, the current network, the receiving network and the receiving SP. With all these (potential) parties, the odds on errors occurring increase. Of course, if you're going from T-Mobile to Orange at the Orange Shop, it's a lot easier.

Darren - don't they have a minimum contractual length in Ireland to prevent swapping every couple days? Wow!

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Boffin

my thoughts on the matter

I am under the impression that utility company slamming is a result of falsified signatures, or real signatures obtained under false pretences.

So, I agree with The Mole – the time taken to port has no reason to effect rates of slamming. It only really affects the time taken to port, as viewed by the customer. I.e. it does what it says it does!

Slamming would be irrelevant if all the companies that are the beneficiaries of slamming (i.e. the new service providers) weren’t so reluctant to give back their newly acquired customers (presumably because they have paid some commission payment to someone – and that is FAR harder to get back).

Slamming is a business incentive driven fraud on the customer and both service providers. However, the receiving service provider has benefitted from that fraud, and has control of the contract that upholds the position slammed into, so it does not make good business sense to unwind the fraud.

Technically, if Ofcom insisted on near instantaneous transfer (certainly possible with today’s tech – if you can update your facebook page using your 3g mobile phone (I can on my N95), which is merely a database update just like a mobile port - you can certainly port as quickly), then you could move mob telco instantly, and in the event that you had been slammed, you could INSTANTLY move back to where you were. Slamming is actually MAD WORSE by the time taken to port between telcos. The single databse, given the above analysis starts to make sense..... Anyway, this is purely a cost issue to Vodafone – they do not want to pay, or even part pay, for something that will help the competition steal their customers. Moreover, they do not want this thing to exist either!

We already know that 3 is fighting the other mobile telcos to try to force them to allow mobile transfers to move more quickly, primarily, as the register mentioned, because 3 can only grow by taking customers off the other telcos. This is because mobile phones are so ingrained in our modern society, that most people already have a provider (and new customers are, roughly speaking, only making up for those that are dying).

I also know that Vodafone was the first mobile telco ever, so, presumably, it has got the most incumbent customers who are only with Vodafone ‘cos they always have been, and either do not know about porting, or don’t want the hassle (i.e. 5 day wait – which is definitely perceived by some to be a hassle, even if it is not in actual fact that much of a hassle. Perception is everything!).

I worked for a major US law firm, who has been named at least once on TheRegister's pages as defending some big companies interests against another big company, or smaller one/individual, and I can assure you that Vodafone’s legal eagles are trying to resist the shorter transfer time by any PLAUSIBLE excuse. By that I mean that, as a few of you have proved already, as long as there are believable reasons provided, then they will have a “prima facie” case, and be allowed to proceed, and can drag it on forever. A plea of “we just don’t want to” never washes.

Now Ofcom, if they fight it, will have to provide proof, expert witnesses, etc, which all cost £’s, to prove this “over stating the truth” is just that. They may not bother, and hence Vodafone win by default.

Remeber that legal action costs big time, and no sensible company would commit large sums of cash (i.e. resources) that was not based upon a good business reason to do so - i.e. it fits something that hurts the company's profits. It is very rare that something that benefits the customer actually benefits the company...

Have a think, and let me know if I have blantantly missed something, but I don't think so.

J

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Dead Vulture

Clawbacks

I work for a mobile retailer. If the number is ported to another network without the customer being aware and the customer calls up to get it reverted back, the retailer that set the new contract up with the network will get it's comission for the sale "Clawed Back" from the network as it boils down to contract fraud. (i'm not actually aware of any past instances of number porting - if you wanted to set up a fraudulent contract you'd want the person who's details you used "none the wiser" for as long as possible). Some retailers activley then grab the commission back from the salesperson and investigate them ultimatley resulting in them getting the sack. If a customer was to become a victim of this fraudulent activity then they would have to wait 5 days to get their number back to their original network. If turnaround is reduced to 2 hours any dubious activities can be resolved quickly for the customer and the customer can quickly be made aware.

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Paris Hilton

Has Anyone Been Prosecuted?

Seems to me that if slamming is the issue, then a few prosecutions might focus the mind better.

Someone above mentioned that the companies should discourage it - of course that's right. But a few criminal records for fraud would make people think twice.

This has happened with utility slamming (though that's more often incompetence than fraud - and I know, it's happened to me twice: never live in a converted flat in London!)

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5 days????

In Australia the time to port is measured in seconds. I think the system was designed to operate in less than 1! In practice, there's usually a short pause and I once remember waiting 15 minutes for it to happen and being quite peeved.

You go into a shop, they create your new account, ask for your number, do an ID check, press a button, the web page says "please wait", refreshes a few times and it's done.

Nobody in this country would tolerate going into a shop, buying a new phone and being told they can't use it for a week. And the phone companies would hate being in a position where they can't complete a sale on the spot. And your average punter is not going to understand (or be willing to be driven nuts by) going from the old carrier to the new carrier getting codes and stuff.

They go in, they buy, they walk out and by the time they've hit the exit door they've received their "Welcome to X" MMS message.

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Unhappy

Porting in 5 Days?

Hehe. I wish it was 5 days.

Recently when I bought a new handset (you know the ones) I thought 'Oh - The PAC process will be really quick as I'm moving from O2 to O2'. 14 Days before it was ported.

And we've recently ported all our corporate handsets (circa 400 units) from Voda to Orange - likewise - with some ports having to have PAC codes regenerated because it took so long.

So if they can't do it in 5 days now, what's the chances of 2 hours becoming 2 weeks anyway? Makes no difference!

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