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The Almighty Buck

Cell Phones Companies Fight Number Portability 341

andy1307 writes "The Washington Post is reporting that wireless companies are opposing mobile number portability. According to the law as it is being written, customers would be able to transfer wired phone numbers to a wireless service. Not surprisingly, Verizon is the wireless company opposing the law."
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Cell Phones Companies Fight Number Portability

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  • The US Again... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Woxbert ( 315027 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @03:51AM (#5699644) Homepage
    Not only am I going to try for first post, I'm also going to try and point out that us Europeans have had this for years...

    If only global companies would look outside of national markets for best practice, consumers would have a much better life.

    • Re:The US Again... (Score:5, Informative)

      by clonmult ( 586283 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:03AM (#5699678)
      We've had it for years, its been handy to take my number between networks without problems, but the whole cost of cross network charges is a pain. You used to know which network someone was on by their prefix, now you haven't got a clue, and its almost worth asking "what network are you on" when you first call someone, just to keep call charges down.
      • Re:The US Again... (Score:2, Informative)

        by Sodki ( 621717 )
        i live in portugal, you can change your network without changing numbers, and when you try do dial a number wich is not the operator's default, you get a message stating that the number is not from that network.
        • Re:The US Again... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Dot.Com.CEO ( 624226 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @06:29AM (#5700058)
          I live in Portugal too. A friend did change operators while keeping his phone number. Apparently, he cannot get reliable service, his phone numbers gets disconnected for days with no explanation other than "technical difficulties" and when he asks what a permanent solution would be, they say (yes, you guessed it) that he should have a number in the block allocated to his current operator...
      • Not sure which country you are in but most networks in the UK offer 'Anytime, Any network' with inclusive minutes. Once you have reached the limit then the extra call charges kick in but as long as you select a decent call package then you should be right. Orange offers a pretty good feature where you can pick and choose your number of minutes, txts, GPRS, etc. to customise your call plan.
      • Not quite the same in the UK. As I understand it, in the UK you can transfer wireless numbers to other wireless providers and wired numbers to other wires (within an area). This means that area codes always give the area and 07.. numbers always give wireless. This fits broadly with the fact that in the UK, the caller picks up the extra cost for making a call to reach a wireless number rather than it being picked up by the call receiver (whether as a direct charge or bundled with the plan)
      • In New Zealand all the companies have interconnect agreements that say that they cant have different rates for cross carrier calls.

        It doesn't mean that they cant do it... But it would open the competition to doing the same thing... they have just decided that it is better for their bottom line to not enter into that kind of battle.
        • I believe that in Ireland womething similar is intended (though I not sure where I originally heard that). To me having number portability is useless is it means that some people are going to get stung when they ring you. I don't agree with fixed line numbers going mobile because an argument can be made against having common call charges then, but in general there should be a standard interconnect rate (for fixed and one for mobile) and internal network calls should be charged the same as external ones.
      • Ah I love my vodaphone prepaid sim... any australian number, fixed or mobile, local or std, any network (except 900 numbers etc) is a cent a second, no flag fall, billed by the second. It's bonza.
      • We've had it for years, its been handy to take my number between networks without problems, but the whole cost of cross network charges is a pain.

        You are mixing two things:

        • Number portability: a Very Good Thing that telecom regulation authorities should keep on enforcing.
        • High roaming costs: happens when there is not enough competition between telcos (or worse, secret agreements to keep prices high). This is a matter of antitrust authorities.
        • Re:The US Again... (Score:5, Informative)

          by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @07:14AM (#5700149)
          igh roaming costs: happens when there is not enough competition between telcos (or worse, secret agreements to keep prices high). This is a matter of antitrust authorities.

          The problem isn't roaming per se. In a given European country, all telcos operating within the country will have (almost) complete coverage. Roaming only happens when you are in another country, and even that is going away (pretty much everywhere has a Vodafone-owned operator now, for example). I can't remember when I last had to even think about roaming, it's all very transparent, and doesn't even cost that much if your operator is set up for it.

          The issue is calling a phone on a network operated by another company. The precedent for this is the difference in cost between calling locally and nationally. Now the distance isn't so much physical as it is topological. Calling someone on your own network is like a local call, routing it to another operator is like a national call. It is fair that this costs more (but not much more), because the telco (or rather, the telco's equipment) has to do more work to connect a cross-network call. It's like peering arrangements between ISPs, it will almost always be cheaper (in bytes per day per dollar) to move data around within your own network than to route it via a peering point.
      • In many European countries we use the prefix to identify the network and the caller pays. If you call from one network to another, you usually pay more than a call within. The prices from landlines to a network also can depend upon the network, especially as the landlines are sometimes provided by a particular operator.

        It is possible to use least-cost-routing to find the cheapest call reseller by the dialling code. Unfortunately, if the dialling code can relate to more than one company, then LCR can't wor

      • You might hate it as a caller, but as a person being called, it's important to keep the same no. esp for small businesses. Just how often would you call a cell if u could call a land line instead anyway? "what network are you on" is easy to do with friends anyway. Who else would you call all the time?
      • by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @10:33AM (#5701522) Homepage
        Just pointing out, in the US there are no cross network charges. People pay a per-minute outgoing charge defined by the carrier they signed up with irrespective of whom they are calling. Cellphone owners pay the same to send or recieve calls as defined by their carrier. This leads to a small degree of double-billing, but when comparing 5c per minute landline long distance vs 60c per minute cell times, the billing is academic.

        But the cell phone industry in the US is a scam. Here's how it works. First off, you estimate your usage... be it 100 minutes, 400 minutes, or 1,000 minutes. If you are too high you are charged every month for minutes you don't use. If you are too low... and you really don't want to be too low... you spend about 75c per minute. 300 and 500 minutes at the beginning of the month might be 20 and 30 dollars, but at the end of the month a 300 minute plan going to 500 minutes will cost you 170 dollars.

        That's not all. Going from local to state-wide to nation-wide roaming might cost 5 - 10 dollars per month in advance, but if you take a trip outside your calling area, and give a loved one two 30 minute update calls, expect to pay an extra 40 dollars. Larger calling areas don't necessarily mean no roaming as companies have implemented plans with off-network roaming in your home calling area... that dead zone at your favorite resturant now costs 40-60c per minute.

        They also charge for long-distance, which is an example of the aformentioned double-dipping. If a person is calling you, they are paying long distance to reach you (5-15c per minute), but you are paying long distance charges to recieve the call too (15-25c per minute). Thankfully many cellular companies have plans that include this "service" for a small fee, though the fact of the matter is that they just want your money.

        To lure people into using their cellphones more frequently, all carriers offer promotional night and weekend minutes. The night time has slowly crept from 6PM to 9PM, and the morning from 9AM to 6AM, but the offer is valid... usually for a limited time. AT&T is famous for cutting off promotional night and weekend minutes when a contract expires without telling the customer, which generally leads to one multi-hundred dollar bill per customer.

        The upsetting thing is that of course this is all a paper exercise. There is no resource that is allocated at the beginning of the month, no bandwidth that your carrier has to purchase at truly tremendous rates if you use more than your allotted space. They don't have to send a lackey from New York to Boston to buy emergency extra air time from a carrier there. It's just a form of billing, and nobody would put up with it in any other industry.

        Landline portability has been a reality for many years here... I know people who have taken their number with them throughout several locations without any sevice degradation. The article cites the %25 turnover rate as a sign of healthy competition, but numbers that high are a sign of very unhappy customers. I don't know anyone who owns a cellular phone and who hasn't been hit with at least one ludicrously high bill... $100 dollar bills are common. And while friendly, support always refuses to do anything about it except bump you up to a more expensive plan for the coming months so that you can hope it doesn't happen again... of course when you move up a plan you automatically make another one-year contract so that you can't join that ticked-off %25 churn without paying the hefty "cancelation" fees to pay for services not rendered.

        Cellular companies don't want anything that would allow people to leave because they know they treat us badly, plain and simple.
    • Re:The US Again... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 1nhuman ( 597328 )
      Just ported my wifes number from a T-mobile pre-paid card to a Vodafone subscription. It took 3 days to complete. I was pretty amazed myself.

      We (Europeans) also use SIM-cards in our phones and if I'm not mistaken Americans still have there "number" programmed in the phone itself. Maybe the SIM-card system is easier to port, although come to think of it, I don't see any reason why.

      • Re:The US Again... (Score:2, Informative)

        by sebmol ( 217013 )

        GSM/GPRS is slowly progressing here. It still has a long way to go though. There has never been much compatibility between wireless carriers' networks but with AT&T and T-Mobile's new attempts at building up GSM/GPRS networks, this might finally change.

        I still can't believe that you have to buy a new phone here just to switch companies.

    • Re:The US Again... (Score:2, Informative)

      by vekotin ( 535759 )
      Some areas in Europe have had it. This is coming to Finland this summer.

      When the law was designed some two years ago, they gave plenty of time for the cell phone operators to make plans on how this should work. All should be ready for the summer, they say. It might help the competition, but I do agree it has problems.

      Here's one: Making a call within the same operator can be half the price of calling to another operator. One operator has one area code, so you know how much the call will cost you. Now when
      • Re:The US Again... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 6hill ( 535468 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @05:06AM (#5699865)
        Making a call within the same operator can be half the price of calling to another operator. One operator has one area code, so you know how much the call will cost you.

        IIRC this feature of financially "binding" customers to their existing networks (or encouraging e.g. families to use the same operator) is under investigation as a possibly illegal marketing strategy. 5 minutes of googling didn't help in finding a reference, but I recall reading about it in the paper here. So it could be merely a temporary anomaly in mobile pricing.

        • Re:The US Again... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by stripes ( 3681 )

          So it could be merely a temporary anomaly in mobile pricing.

          It might be a temporary anomaly in mobile pricing, but it is a permeant feature of the underlying mobile cost. If you are an orange customer calling another orange customer the call can (and most likely does) run entirely over a network that orange has payed for, and doesn't cost orange anything. If you are an orange customer and call an O2 customer then you have to pay O2 to put the call through, and you may have to pay someone other then O2

    • Re:The US Again... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:23AM (#5699746) Journal
      We've had it for a few years in Holland, and it works wonderfully well. All you need is to sign a release form with your new provider, and (provided all your bills with the previous provider are settled), the number is transferred within 10 days. This is one of the few actual successes of our Competitive Practices Watchdog.

      I had the dubious pleasure of working on the NP project for corporate customers of one of our telco's. The telcos' claim that NP is an expensive requirement that will bring zero ROI is true... this was not a simple project to do, and the marketing guys explained that NP allows you to steal customers from competitors but that it does little for your bottom line, as you'll have to lower prices.

      We are already working on the next step: number portability for bank accounts!! Oh yes, finally I can go to my bank and tell them to get stuffed, while keeping my bank account nr. Switching bank accounts is an even bigger pain than switching telephone numbers, especially in the Netherlands where people tend to use lots of direct debit invoicing. The banks know this, and banking service in Holland is generally dismal compared to other countries.
      • Re:The US Again... (Score:2, Informative)

        by Dullink ( 665007 )
        No we don't. We have number portability for wireless numbers, and for wired numbers. But we can't port a wireless number to a wired number or vice versa. Simply because we use different area codes for wireless and wired numbers.
        • True. There are actually two reasons for not having number portability between land lines and mobiles:
          - Land line phones and mobile phones were seen as two sufficiently different products, at least where switching between the two is concerned.
          - Calling charges to mobiles are generally higher than calling to land lines. Retaining the ability to recognise a mobile number by its prefix is better than having a taped message play before every call to a mobile "This is a mobile nr, and higher caller charges a
      • Re:The US Again... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by _Spirit ( 23983 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @07:07AM (#5700137) Journal
        Eehm I don't know what Holland you live in but having been exposed to banking all around the world I am grateful that I live in Holland. I can transfer money now from my account to yours (or anyone else in Holland) within a few hours at no cost (or instantly for a small fee) with only a name, a number and a few clicks. If you think this works in the same painless way in other countries I would suggest living abroad for a while. I don't think you would ever complain about Dutch banks again.

        Oh and by the way we don't have number portability between wired and cell phones, just between cell phone providers (that's what the article is about)
    • At least in the UK, you can't assign a landline number to a mobile. You can usually call-forward to a mobile, but the actual mobile number must start "07xxx". Landlines are "01xxx" and "02xxx" apart from large cities which are "01xx" (like "0141" for Glasgow) or "02xx" (like "0207" for Central London).
      • At least in the UK, you can't assign a landline number to a mobile.

        Actually you can. Or at least you could when I lived there 3 months ago, I think you still can.
        Orange allows you to buy a landline (01/02) number from them and route it to your mobile. They charge you about £15 per month and £0.08 per minute for the privilege. They do the same thing with freephone numbers too.
        • Re:The US Again... (Score:3, Informative)

          by Gordonjcp ( 186804 )
          You're not assigning the geographic number to the mobile, though. Orange buy up number blocks in each geographic area and then forward that line from their switch to the mobile network.
    • We (UK) don't however, have the ability to take landline numbers to mobile networks or vice versa as suggested by the article (not permanently anyway - you can redirect calls if you want but you end up paying for incoming calls). ...which I'm very glad about because that would be a totally stupid idea. How on earth would you know if you're calling a landline (1p/min or perhaps free) or a mobile (10p/min or much more depending on your tariff). I can't believe they're even suggesting this. It's hard enough k
    • I dimly remember that Vodafone tried something like this when number-portability was first brought in here (UK) but I could be wrong, it's quite a while ago now...

      panic ye not American slashdotters: the idea of your government upholding uncompetitive tripe like this would be as unthinkable in a free market economy as, say, a head of state without a popular mandate in a democracy... ;)

      seriously though, some telcos might kick and scream but it'll go through all the same.
    • Re:The US Again... (Score:4, Informative)

      by rf0 ( 159958 ) <rghf@fsck.me.uk> on Thursday April 10, 2003 @05:31AM (#5699935) Homepage
      Yeah going to have to agree here. However for the UK (and maybe other EU) countries it is a general rule that mobile number begin with 07xxx. If you see a phone number you can tell if it is a landline or mobile. Within the US all the numbers are intermingled and you can't tell what a number connects to short of asking

      • However for the UK (and maybe other EU) countries it is a general rule that mobile number begin with 07xxx.

        This is only an issue in the UK because you have to pay extra to call a cellphone. In the US this isn't the case; a phone is a phone-- knowing whether it's mobile or landline is academic (and sometimes it's convenient to be able to pretend that you're in an office using a real phone rather than out at a restaurant.)

        Also, from what I understand, in Europe you can pay different per-minute charges cal

  • What possible legal grounds could a company have to oppose this law? I mean we are owners of our.....oh right, we don't own shit...
  • Well yeah... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spytap ( 143526 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @03:56AM (#5699658)
    This makes it harder to just up and leave if you're pissed about shitty service. If your cellphone is a business contact, for example, it's very inconvenient to have to call 1200 numbers to let them know about your number change. This makes it less likely for you to jump ship at a given opportunity, and means that your service provider doesn't have to give quite the level of service that you would expect from any other business.
    Were this law to pass, that wall of contention would be eliminated and you'd be able to take off to a better plan at a better provider if you wished.
    • Re:Well yeah... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by panaceaa ( 205396 )
      Apparently it's cheaper to buy off Congressmen and start law suits than it is to upgrade networks. Fortunately the consumer advocate lobbies have the support of companies that already have great networks, such as AT&T Wireless. Their support shows that they are committed to long term improvements of their networks: They will need to stay competitive to keep the customers they gain from Cingular and Verizon.
    • Not like most people don't anyway. Cell phone companies have a very high customer turnover rate anyway, so obviously switching numbers really isn't that big a deal to most customers. What I did when I switched cell phones was I bought a new one with a different company a month before my old contract expired and left a voice mail message with my new number. If they don't call me once a month, they're probably not going to call (i.e. I'd call them) so it really was pretty painless. Plus it made sure all those
      • They use the turnover rate as evidence that number portability isn't necessary to preserve competition, bhe other way to look at it is that most cell providers are so shitty that 27% of their customers switched last year despite what an enormous pain in the ass it is. Any other industry with such a high churn is likely producing depreciable goods, which wear out thus sending the customer back into the market, possibly open to the idea of trying a different brand.
    • When I purchased my cell phone, it was the better phone in my home town, which has bad reception (I've had the "can you hear me now" guys out here several times). 6 months ago, a competitor installed a tower a mile out of town.

      My cellphone is my business phone, which means that I cannot change the number easily, but I am changing the service as soon as this law gets passed.
  • It is Verizon, too (Score:5, Interesting)

    by quistas ( 137309 ) <robomilhous@hotmail.com> on Thursday April 10, 2003 @03:59AM (#5699665)
    I work in IT for A Competing Carrier, and we had most of the work for Local Number Portability done years ago, and it's become a joke: the group in charge of that latest LNP projects gets no respect and has been regularly knocked down on priorities because Verizon etc has managed to quash it so frequenty.

    It's weird they've fought this for so long because Verizon's one of the top cell companies in customer service, I'd have expected that they'd be eager to beat the tar out of Sprint, say, once people are free to change their carriers without changing numbers.

    And it is a huge deal. I know a couple of real estate agents, in particular, who complain constantly about how awful their service from company x is, but they won't change if it means they have to get all their letterhead changed, have to get all their contacts to swap out the speed-dial and so on.

    What's even more baffling, now that I think about it, is that LNP essentially guarantees an industry shakeout, because churn shoots through the roof as customers move to whoever has good service in their area, and we'd see the customers who signed up for (say) Sprint because of good introductory offers move on. A couple fewer regional and national competitors and the industry would be much healthier.

    Which is good for my job. -- q

    • It's weird they've fought this for so long because Verizon's one of the top cell companies in customer service, I'd have expected that they'd be eager to beat the tar out of Sprint, say, once people are free to change their carriers without changing numbers.

      Your missing the point. It's not about customer service -- it's about price. Price is ranked higher by most consumers than service level.

      The law, as it is currently written, will initiate a large price war between the major Wireless provides AND wir
      • by swb ( 14022 )
        For (AFAIK) the first time in history Verizon would be forced to reduced the price of land lines.

        Maybe that's the issue they have. IIRC residential phone service is subsidized by non-residential services through really complicated tarrifs.

        It would be really complicated and costly for them to subsidize residential service even further, especially if business users start abandoning landlines as well (less likely for anything but the smallest of businesses), reducing the subsidy sources as well.
  • by panaceaa ( 205396 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:01AM (#5699674) Homepage Journal
    I'm proud that AT&T Wireless, my carrier of choice, is supporting number portability. The only carriers against portability are uncompetitive, such as Cingular.

    Here in Silicon Valley, most of my friends were initially lured to Cingular's low prices. When they found out their phones didn't even work at their own houses, they mostly switched to AT&T. But some stay with Cingular because they are reluctant to change their phone numbers.

    On a side note: I wonder how many people in California would have been lured to Cingular if it was still called BellSouth Wireless? :)

    • by babbage ( 61057 ) <cdevers@cis.usoutha l . edu> on Thursday April 10, 2003 @10:38AM (#5701578) Homepage Journal
      As another poster noted, Cingular is more than the old BellSouth wireless. I'm a Cingular customer today, but my plan started two years ago under CellularONE, and to be honest I'm on the whole a happy customer: the reception is generally good, their customer service has been quick to respond to errors when I've called them, and my current rate plan is reasonable.

      My only gripe -- and this isn't entirely their fault -- is that I bought the Nokia 6210i phone thinking that I'd be able to use the IR port on the top of the phone to exchange data with a Palm Pilot or IR equipped computer ...but the port is decorative on version of the phone sold in the USA. That's Nokia's fault, not CellONE/Cingular's. Otherwise, I'm happy with the phone and I'm happy with the service. The only thing that would make me want to switch now is if I could apply my number to a service that would let me use a more advanced phone (*working* IR, or better still bluetooth, etc), but that doesn't necessarily mean switching to a different provider. I'll just be happy to have that option when the tiime comes to upgrade.

      By way of comparison, my company provides some of us with Nextel/Motorola phones. Mine is a Motorola i1000plus. I can't stand that piece of junk. It has more features than you can shake a stick at, to be sure (web, walkie talkie, speakerphone, etc) but the usability of the phone is about as good as the customer service on an Aeroflot flight -- *awful*. Half the features I can't figure out how to tap into, and the other half I can use only after going through an elaborate pantomime without making any false keystrokes or I have to start over again. Yuck. I'd be happy with less features and better UI, but none of the other Motorolas seem to be any better than this piece of junk. Hence I've kept the Nokia, which aside from the IR port thing is a truly great phone. (Okay, enough UI ranting, the topic is service quality.)

      As for experiences with other providers, my fiance is a current AT&T customer, and she *hates* their customer service. She bought the phone because of the rebates & intro offers, but they tried to get out of it when she got the phone, and she ended up having to spend more than six hours on the phone with their [third party!] customer service agency over the course of several calls and a couple of weeks to get things fixed, and was ready to ditch the service before the first month was even up. Before AT&T she had Sprint (good service, terrible reception at our home), and over the past few years she has jumped around among several providers looking for someone she'd be happy with.

      All through that time my phone has been with the same company with, again, no serious complaints. Everyone has different experiences with these companies of course. It seems to me that your best bet is to get the opinion of other people *in your area*. Cingular sucks on the west coast, eh? Well I've been happy with them here in New England, but it seems like AT&T is bad here & good there. Other will vary as well.

      In the end through, number portability will hopefully level a lot of this. It's a pain that people can get locked into a company that has little incentive to improve their service, when switching providers is so disruptive. Having that option will break the fact that these companies are like a bunch of little monopolistic fiefdoms, and force them to start competing to keep customers happy. Is that a burden for them to support? Tough shit, why should customers care? That's their problem. As long as NP isn't available, they're going to be able to let their customer service deteriorate because they know customers won't be likely to switch even if service does get bad. Now they'll be forced to pay attention. Surely that has to be a win for consumers.

  • by dWhisper ( 318846 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:03AM (#5699679) Homepage Journal
    I know the company that I use for Cell Phone service ties the numbers into the local areas, and they are all the same/similar pre-fixes. Beyond that, they control account information on those numbers, and if the bill is late, they can shut it on/off. A wired company, however, needs someone to actually turn a physical switch. I don't work with phones enough to know if this makes an actual difference.

    I'd be curious on how it would work if a home number was ported, and then listed in the White Pages under that certain name. Since most portable phones are not listed anywhere, and there are laws against telemarketing to a cell phone, it could become a legal jungle once those numbers are switched. But it would be nice if I could just have the one number listed as a home number, since my Cell is all that I use.
  • No Surprise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LamerX ( 164968 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:03AM (#5699681) Journal
    This is no surprise... You can't even take your phone to another provider, what makes you think that you will be able to take your number with you?
    • Surprice! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by WegianWarrior ( 649800 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:35AM (#5699783) Journal

      With a SIM-card based GSM-system, such as is universally adopted in Europe and large parts of the world, you can take your phone to another provider.. or buy any phone that takes your fancy and use on any network you prefer. I got a collegua with two simcard in one phone (and thus two numbers); one for work, with the provider most benefical for that use, and one for private use, with another provider thats cheaper for that use. Only one phone thought, so he has to remember to switch cards as he leaves work.

      Anywho, the way most countries has done it - one standarised system for infrastrukture - has given a level playingfield for competiton. No longer are the customer tied to one provider, if he is unhappy, he can take his phone and leave (and for the last few years here in Norway, his number too).

      • There there is a large amount of GSM coverage in the US, and growing all the time. I switched to GSM about a year ago and it's worked great. I imagine by the time that the number portability does become law, GSM will be really widespread and a viable option from many different providers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:04AM (#5699686)

    if(article.story.indexOf("phone")!=-1 && user.location.ToLower()=="usa"){
    phone.advancemen t("years") -= 10

  • by aquarian ( 134728 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:10AM (#5699705)
    ...is a national area code not tied to area. This makes sense because if you're calling a Verizon customer, for example, you're connecting with their network locally anyway. From there it's all within Verizon's network, so the area code shouldn't make any difference. The only real use cell phone providers have for geographic area codes, is for marketing purposes.

    The problem now is that while I have a national calling plan where calls anywhere in the US and Canada are the same price, people calling me from the next street may have to pay long distance charges. This is absurd -- though I live on the east coast, people calling me locally have to dial a California number. And keeping my number is important -- it's my established business and personal number, wherever I happen to be.

    So, why can't we just have national area codes for cell phone users with national plans?
    • This is what we've got in Sweden, and I suspect in most other European countries.

      My cellphone provider (Vodafone) is using the area-code 0733 (among others). This "areacode" is the same all over the country - a Vodafone customer in Kiruna in the north of Sweden will have the same areacode as a customer in Lund in the south.

      The reason this works is because there is no such thing as a local cellphone call. All calls to cellphones are charged at the cellphone rate (about 15-40 cents/minute), no matter where
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:14AM (#5699718)
    I had the same problem with emails.. Change ISP, and you have to change email accounts. Similar problem ,as your correspondance and cards all have to change. You also have to alert everybody that olduser@oldisp.com is now gone. Pretty much a pain in the ass.

    Well now, I purchased my own domain name and I run my own mail server. If somebody wants to email me, they aim it at user@mydomainname.com (my domain hidden to protect from /.ing ). My IP's can change ill it wants, I can simply use an auto-update daemon.

    What I'm saying, is have the similar sort of dial-setup. You can either buy a phone redirection circuit, or if there's dealers out there, buy a redirection phone number.

    Old style=
    Caller => You

    New style=

    Caller => Redirection service => wherever you specify

    My plan's sort of like DNS for phones.
    • We have that concept in the UK = called "personal numbers". You pay a company for a number (starting 0700 I think) and they route the call to wherever you have configured. You can set up timed redirects, so during the day it goes to work, at night to home etc.

      These have largely gone unnoticed and unused, simply because the majority of people in the UK have mobiles, and with mobile number portability there's no reason to change your number. I've had the same mobile number for 8 years now - I see no reason w
      • All dialling codes beginning 70-75 are allocated to personal numbers. That's double the range allocated to cellular phones, which is 77-79. (76 is for the few remaining pagers.)

        Depending on the service provider for a personal number, it may be possible to have calls forwarded overseas without incurring roaming fees, You can also forward them to places where cellular coverage may be unreliable. Still, they do seem to be a niche service, except among dodgy businesses that distribute flyers...

        Unfortunately n

    • As long as you are using the analogy of internet addressing, why not go the extra step and get rid of the numbers completely? I know, it is a bit more complicated to key in and alpha-numeric address into the small keypad of a phone, but this has to be the way things will go eventually.

      BTW, I've never used the email address supplied by my ISP, nor any free email hosting. In my case, the email is hosted with my web-hosting, and it doesn't really cost me anything because this is being shared virtual host-w

  • Okay. WHY?!?! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by philovivero ( 321158 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:15AM (#5699721) Homepage Journal
    Considering reading the article before commenting? Don't bother. They haven't done their homework. The reason they're fighting the number portability laws? Because it would increase their costs... I'll let the cognitive dissonance batter your brain a little bit on that one.

    Lame, lame, lame mobile phone providers. Get a clue. Service your customers. Provide value for the money. How about more anytime minutes per month? Or how about if you don't use your anytime minutes this month, they roll over to next month?

    Come on, people. Stop sitting comfortably on your piles of ill-gotten profits and serve the customers like you're supposed to be doing. I swear, the way our legislature is bending over and taking it from the corps in this country is astounding.
  • by aquarian ( 134728 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:16AM (#5699723)
    ...is that phone companies, pager companies, etc., buy numbers in blocks of 10,000 and have rights to them forever, so whether they're used or not they don't return to the pool. Because they hold your number they can hold you hostage. God forbid they should compete on service.

    If we didn't have this situation, there would be no need for the constant splitting of area codes.
  • Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CaptainZapp ( 182233 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:22AM (#5699739) Homepage
    Wireless companies say the mandate will increase their costs and do little to promote competition in an industry already battered by a price war.

    Er, yes your honour each customer who intends to keep his number due to crapp^H^H^H^H^H reasons, which we really don't understand will cost us 2$37.

    Lawyers for the CTIA and Verizon Wireless claim the rule is unnecessary because competition for the nation's 144 million wireless subscribers remains robust.

    Yes guvernor, we spent 230'000'000$ annually for lawyers and lobbying in order to fuck^H^H^H^H provide for better customer service...

  • by mcesh ( 601684 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:24AM (#5699749)
    Just think - the ability to keep numbers allows anyone to switch to the cheapest price plan du jour, until the price war bottoms out. Then what? Maybe certain companies (anyone [sprint.com]? anyone [t-mobile.com]? ) would have to stop competing on pure price and actually start to offer services valuable to customers, such as the ability to make and receive calls reliably.. the horror! (in fact, the telcos could even realize that if thousands of people in a certain area code are ditching, then perhaps it's time to buy a few more towers there?)

    never underestimate the powers of condescension - It knows not the bounds of time or space
    • Except for the service contract lengths of at least a year... sometimes up to two.

      As long as it costs me several months' worth of regular service to sever my ties to my cell provider I am pretty much going to stick with that provider. That's where they really screw ya.

  • Hong Kong (Score:5, Interesting)

    by yehim1 ( 462046 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:24AM (#5699750) Journal
    In Hong Kong, they have had it since the beginning.

    The country code is +852, and mobile phone numbers always start with either 9 or 6. All the numbers are governed centrally in a pool by a regulatory body.

    When you subscribe to a network, you would pay a surchange to the regulatory body for the "number", and then it belongs to the network you are subscribed to. When you change networks, you keep your old number but you have to pay about US$10 to the regulatory body to change your information.

    In this way, there is better competition between operators (there are 7 in this small country!!), and the users are not bound in anyway to an operator that offers shitty service.

    There is a flip-side, however. Here SMS'es between networks are charged at about USD 0.20, but SMS'es in the same network are charged USD 0.10. There is no way of determining whether your receipient is in the same network! Even if you know, they might have changed their mobile network...

    Also, with MMS coming up, it gives additional problems if you do not know which network your receipient is in. But the networks are opening their MMS services for inter-network sending soon, so it would be solved (just like SMS'es).

  • by EvilMike ( 640266 ) <evilmike AT houseofwack DOT com> on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:31AM (#5699770) Homepage

    ...and Australia is roughly the same size in area as the contiguous United States, so the argument that it is only due to small coverage for telcos in Europe (that some people have been posting) is hogwash.

    Some more information:

    http://www.aca.gov.au/consumer_info/publications/b rochures/mnp.htm

    You can move phone numbers between GSM and CDMA in Australia as well as between Telcos. There are about four-five players competing for mobile telephony in Aus, but they have national reach and aren't fragmented like the mess in the USA.

  • Portability rules! (Score:5, Informative)

    by nordicfrost ( 118437 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:31AM (#5699771)
    Number portability and virtual networks is the key to a healthy and competitive cell market. I live in Norway, where we have two networks (Telenor (former state monopoly) and Netcom). These companies have the GSM infrastructure and rents out air time to virtual operators such as Chess, Sense, Carrot and You. Combine the vitual networks with law-mandatory number portability and you've got some good competition going on. The prices have gone down a bit after the portability was introduced. When there was only Telenor and Netcom, you had an effective oligopoly.
  • I work for a Telco (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2003 @04:35AM (#5699782)
    here in Canada, and I think one of the main issues here we're (as in slashdot) ignoring is the simple less sinister one: cost.

    Number portability, atleast for us, is a major expensive pain in the @ss.

    We are planning on moving towards number portabilty, because we feel it's ultimately good for everyone involved - new cutomers that move into our area can keep old numbers etc. etc. We also get a happier customer out of the deal, if he/she can choose us over another competitor simply because they can keep their phone number - we feel that will offset the cost of churn.

    The problem is, billing systems need to be updated, massive changes in the switching equipment need to be maintained AND - we need cooperation from other Telco's. In Canada as well, there's the legal issues of satisfying the government, (CRTC), so unfourtunately everything moves at a snail's pace.

    I'm not sure about other companies in the US, but I don't think it's a typical problem of the "huge corporations trying to screw the customers" in this case, which is often trumpeted by the majority of slashdotters. Basically a major rework of the phone system needs to be done throughot North America to make this work properly, and sadly this is going to take some time.

    • by amcguinn ( 549297 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @05:15AM (#5699898) Journal

      This is consistent with my experience working for a small telco in the UK when portability was coming in for non-geographic numbers (0800 etc)

      We were strongly in favour of it, as it made it easier for us to take business from competitors, but it was a lot of work -- I was working on the issue for more than 6 months, plus a lot of bedding in afterwards, and that was just the billing and inter-company charging infrastructure. If exchange upgrades are needed, that's a very large delay and expense.

      Obviously that's not much excuse for opposing it, and consumers need to keep pushing for it, but it's worth hanging on to a reasonable amount of patience...

  • Utter filth... (Score:2, Informative)

    From the article...

    "I would rather see our resources devoted to safety of life and protection of property rather than addressing regulations of convenience," said Brian Fontes, vice president for federal regulations for Cingular Wireless. "
    • And why is this "utter filth," as you say? Maybe it is, but without offering supporting opinion on why it's filth, how can anybody agree with your view?

  • Those stupid 10,000 blocks are also one of the causes of the proliferation of area codes. I have already had to purchase new letterhead because of new area codes.

    The FCC system now assigns phone companies blocks of 10,000 numbers; the phone companies do not pay for them. If the phone companies had to bid for them, maybe they would have a persuasive argument.
  • by john.wingfield ( 212570 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @05:13AM (#5699893)

    Let's just play devil's advocate for a minute. In the UK it used to be the case that you could tell the mobile operator from the dialing code of the number, e.g. 07866 for Orange, 07788 for Vodafone. (This can still be done at UK Phone Information [ukphoneinfo.com].) This was useful, since many tariffs give you free or cheaper calls to numbers belonging to the same operator. Since numbers became portable, you can no longer make an assumption as to the operator.

    While it certainly an advantage for the consumer for his/her number to be portable, it may end up costing him/her more.

    • In the UK all operators have now expanded the inclusive minutes to include other networks, I know that Orange has now included other networks and all 'normal' landline calls (by normal I mean local and national call, not so called lo-call or permeim rate numbers) in it's free calls and adjusted the charges on them so as there is now only 2 'normal' tarrifs. They have done this to almost all there talk plans
  • by tigress ( 48157 ) <rot13.fcnzgenc03@8in.net> on Thursday April 10, 2003 @05:23AM (#5699924)
    Number portability is a very good idea. Unfortunately, there's some real costs and problems involved in implementing it.

    For instance, operators get large series of numbers. This can be blocks of tens of thousands to tens of millions of numbers, with a specific prefix. Just like Internet routing, those blocks (or prefixes, if you want to think that way) decide where a call goes.

    Now, what happens when you want to make a number portable? Well, those blocks still exist. The problem is that whenever you make a phonecall, the connection goes to the operator who owns the block. That operator, in turn, looks up the number and decides what to do with it. If it's a number that's moved to another operator, they either redirect the connection, or establishes additional connections to the new operator (depending on the technology used). The costs of doing so is sometimes greater than just accepting a call to one of their own customers.

    Now, add the cost of updating the exchanges, the billing systems, educating the staff and so on and you'll quickly realise that this is not a trivial task. Also remember that this adds a huge amount of complexity to the telephone system, a system that's already overly complex.

    Compare this, for instance, with trying to implement portable IP-numbers. It's not the same thing (different technology among other things), but the complexity issues are similar.

  • by mosburger ( 189009 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @05:55AM (#5699990) Homepage
    ...I write billing and customer care software. We've been ready for WNP for years now. Thought I could maybe clear a couple of things up...

    A lot of people are complaining about the fact that in the United States, we only give out blocks of 10,000 numbers. That simply isn't true anymore. Most people don't realize this, but last November, all non-GSM (more on U.S. GSM in a sec) U.S. Cell companies 'split' their phone numbers into two identical numbers... one called the MDN (Mobile Directory Number, or Mobile Dialable Number), and the MIN (Mobile Identification Number). The MDN is what you actually dial when you call your friend on their cell phone, and the MIN is (sort of) what the call routes on (actually, it routes on a different number called the Local Routing Number or LRN, which is associated with the MIN, but I digress...).

    Anyway, when the numbers got split, it because possible to dole out phone numbers in smaller blocks... if someone needs a block of 1000 numbers and it's in the same cost center (think long distance charges) as someone else who needs 1000 numbers, they can share the same block of 10000 MDNs and use different MINs with different LRNs. This whole process is called 'Number Pooling'.

    All of this also allows for WNP. So essentially, the software is already doing all of the 'hard stuff' today... we've been using two phone numbers since last November. On Nov 24th 2003, you will be able to port your MDN. Your MIN will change. So your dialable number might go from Verizon to Cingular, but your MIN will change from a Verizon MIN to a Cingular MIN. You and your friends don't notice any difference... think of your dialable number like a pointer to a MIN.

    Confused? See why Verizon doesn't want to do this? I think WNP is a good thing, but I barely understand this stuff, and I helped write the damned software that's supposed to do all this... imagine training hundreds of customer care staff on how this stuff works.

    GSM in the U.S. is a little less scary 'cuz it was designed from the ground-up to route on a separate number from the dialable number (they call the diable number the MSISDN... forget what it stands for off the top of my head... it's pronounced 'Mizz-din'.) GSM routes (again, sort of) on the IMSI, which is programmed into the SIM card. It's kinda sorta like combining the ESN (serial number on the phone) and the LRN from the TDMA/CDMA world into one number.

  • ...thanks to the way it simply references a web accessible directory listing, contacts can use it as a last resort to reach you.

    No, a GoNumber [gonumber.net] cannot be dialed into a phone directly, but there is some potential for an intelligent routing feature to be introduced at the right time.

  • Isn't it about time we took a long-term look at numbers and routine, and asked whether we're heading in the right direction?

    From my (limited) understanding of the telecoms industry, it is standard practice in landlines to use area and exchange prefixes, making it impractical or at least very costly to keep your number if you move. Most operators offer a compromise by way of a call forwarding service (at a cost, of course).

    Cellular calls, like land calls, are routed by a prefix. Each operator has one o

    • Re:Time for a change (Score:4, Informative)

      by vidarh ( 309115 ) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Thursday April 10, 2003 @06:53AM (#5700111) Homepage Journal
      Many companies in Europe has forced full number portability on the telecoms industry already, with the only limitation being that you can only move a wireless number to another wireless operator and vice versa for landlines.

      The telcos whined about until it happened, but in the end it turns out that most of their newer systems could easily handle it anyway.

      The thing is most routing doesn't happen by the dialled number any more, and haven't for a very long time.

  • by Belgand ( 14099 ) <belgand&planetfortress,com> on Thursday April 10, 2003 @07:34AM (#5700191) Homepage
    I'm continually amazed at how hostile cellular companies are to people seeking to continue doing business with them. My step-father recently was needing to get a new phone and was planning on continuing with Sprint service. When we went there not only were the majority of decent plans reserved only for new customers, but the $200 or so off a new phone was the same deal unless you signed a highly restrictive contract for 2-5 years IIRC. I've heard horror stories from everyone I know about their cellular service with almost all my friends switching at least once.

    I have no idea how the industry expects to do well by mistreating customers trying to sustain them with repeat business (and yes, contracts are abuse) or locking them into contracts so they can't complain and hopefully won't switch too soon. I can't really think of any other industries that consider routine abuse of customers to be a viable business strategy. That is, unless their idea is to keep people jumping around from company to company every 2 years or so at great inconvenience grinding up new users as they come along.
  • by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @07:35AM (#5700193) Homepage Journal

    The fact that telephones have numbers at all in the digital age seems silly. Well established psychological research has shown a very long time ago that people's short term memory isn't good at dealing with big numbers. The whole concept of using phone numbers to call people goes against usability principles, yet there doesn't seem to be a serious effort to get rid of them in most places. It's not just legacy technology, it's legacy industrial age thinking.

    Firstly, telephones shouldn't normally be the addressee. People should be the addressee. Secondly, people shouldn't have to have numbers, they should have names.

    Many phones already try to emulate names by providing calling directories, and it's a real hack. I don't know the numbers for many of my friends because I rely on my phone to hide it, and I only interact with the names to call people. I hate to think what'd happen if I lost my phone, though. Also when someones phone number/address changes, it really messes things up for everyone who knows them.

    So how long is it going to be before digital phones and digital networks actually do away with numbers altogether, in a way where other people can change their phone's address without everyone else having to know or care? Obviously there would be numbers in the system somewhere, but they shouldn't be needed in a user interface any more than the primary key of a typical database table is needed.

    • Phone numbers provide anonymity. Some people don't like to be looked up and called, which is why they make their number unlisted, or they get a cell phone. You could argue that those things are unnecessary, but it has become part of our lifestyle. Besides, every cell phone, and some wired phones have built in address books. I think that phone numbers are here to stay, unless the whole world wants a change.
  • I heard (Cingular exec at MacWorld Expo after a conference) the ulterior (or underlying) motive for this is to spur new phone sales. Because of the proliferation of cell phone numbers - and the growing length - people cannot possibly remember the long numbers ... at the least the average person. So, that means you have to buy a new phone; one that is fancy and will store lots of data, one that ISN'T free. Cell phone manufacturers are pushing this just as much as cell providers are.

    I am relatively stuck wit

  • The phone companies need to stop the turn over on cell phone number, and have about a 6 month period where the number is not active. Then they need to include that nice little greeting that will tell you what the number has been changed too, even if its with a different carrier. I know every time I have switched my land line when I have moved they have always given me the option to put whatever number I want on that little message people get. I do like the idea of number portability, but there definetly
  • by Deal-a-Neil ( 166508 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @09:10AM (#5700693) Homepage Journal
    We have to pay an additional $1.75 per MONTH for this new "number portability". Listen, at the end of the day, I don't feel bound to my cell phone number. Hell, it helps me weed out the people that I don't want to have it. I think this should be an option for each consumer -- you make the decision when you sign up, as to whether or not you want to keep that number, not some mandate across the board. And, as a whamy, if you want to keep your number when you change providers, you pay $1.75 x [number-of-months-you-have-had-that-number-in-serv ice].

    Think about it -- it's another $21.00 a year. It's really not worth it. So now, we have another new law and new tax -- how convenient.
  • by iceT ( 68610 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @10:03AM (#5701174)
    Remember, it's the prefixes that tell tele-marketers that they can't call your cell phone... If you can take your wired prefix to your cell phone, then you will loose a valuable tool in combating them...!
  • Voice over IP (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dotslash ( 12419 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @10:54AM (#5701739) Homepage
    Do you know what really pisses me off? For the last two years I have been paying $3 a month on my phone bill for "Number Portability Charge". Whenever I have actually tried to "port" my number there is always a reason why it can't be done.

    I'm sick and tired of telcos. This month I am moving to a new home so I did some research into VoIP. I found a service from Vonage [vonage.com] which allows me to setup a VoIP connection to a POTS system over broadband. It is SIP and H323 compatible. It costs only $39.99 a month and gives me unlimited free calls everywhere in the US and Canada, anytime. Not only that, but because it isn't classified as a communications service there are no surcharges. Just for comparison, Verizon offers a similar flat fee package for $64.99. The taxes and surcharges that they conveniently separate from the price add another $40 per month.

    Good riddance...

  • by Nurgled ( 63197 ) on Thursday April 10, 2003 @11:50AM (#5702261)

    We should add a new DNS record type for international telephone numbers. It'd be reasonably easy to have a DNS gateway over cellphone networks so that phones can resolve the phone number from a name before dialling.

    Sure, it would be harder to enter the number the first time on a numeric keypad, but you'd store the name in your phone's memory so that you only have to type it once, and those with phones with QWERTY keyboards would be set!

    It sure would be nice to be able to dial sales.somecompany.com rather than having to look up their number first. The main benefit, though, is the abstraction -- people can change their numbers and only be out of touch for the time it takes for the DNS record to expire.

    The benefit of using a separate record type is that, like with MX records, it could coexist with other record types so that, for example, support.ibm.com could resolve to both an IP address and a telephone number.

    I'm sure some company would soon step in with cheap 'catchy' phone hostnames in similar vein to free, throwaway email for those who don't have the know-how, desire or funds to run their own domain.

    Why DNS? Because it's already there, and it works well.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson