Australian regulator to investigate portability issue

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA), the country’s telecommunication regulator, is to investigate the performance of mobile carriers in complying with the industry code for mobile number portability (MNP), ACA said in a statement Tuesday.

MNP, which was introduced last week, allows consumers to keep their mobile phone number when they change their mobile service provider – a process known as porting – and is expected to increase the rate of subscribers changing operators.

The goal is to allow subscribers to change service providers in less than three hours, compared to an average of over two weeks in countries like the United Kingdom, ACA said.

MNP allows portability between the four major mobile operators Telstra Corp. Ltd., Vodafone Pacific Pty. Ltd., Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) subsidiary Optus and Hutchison Telecommunications Australia Ltd.’s Orange brand.

ACA’s investigation will focus on complaints that some of the carriers have failed to correct bugs in their IT systems which are limiting their subscribers’ ability to change carriers, ACA said.

“We have been monitoring the MNP process very closely and acknowledged at the end of the first week that there had been some teething problems,” ACA said in its statement. “These allegations raise the possibility that there may be some systemic issues to be addressed so we are moving quickly through this investigation to ensure that they are resolved.”

Telstra, the largest of the four mobile operators, said it welcomed the investigation.

“It appears some carriers may not be giving equal priority to customers porting away, relative to those porting in,” Telstra said in a statement. “Not all porting requests appear to have been addressed on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, with some customers waiting to port to Telstra since the first day of MNP.”

Optus said that criticisms of the porting process were inaccurate.

“It is important that customers are not misled by vested interests into believing the MNP process is unreliable or unwieldy,” the company said in a statement. “By our estimates only a very small percentage of customer ports have been delayed by start-up issues with systems. These issues are rapidly being resolved as they arise.”

ACA said that despite the teething problems with the MNP process, Australia is already providing world’s best practice in porting times.

All four of the carriers are among the companies awarded spectrum to operate 3G (third-generation) telecommunication services in Australia in the future.

ACA, in Melbourne, can be contacted at