Number portability can bring ‘big benefits’ to Canadian cell phone users

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With less than a month to go before local cell phone number portability is implemented in Canada, telecommunications analysts urge wireless users to ensure they are getting the best deal before switching carriers.

The looming mobile number liberation is an excellent opportunity to revisit existing wireless plans, according to Roberta Fox, principal of Fox Group Telecom Consulting in Mount Albert, Ont.

Fox expects considerable disruption when the Canadian Radio Telecommunication Commission (CRTC), on March 14, finally allows mobile phone users to keep their local phone numbers even when they transfer service providers.

“Just like in the U.S., there will be a lot of churn in the short term. Some customer will switch providers daily as they search for better bargains.”

Mobile phone users should also be wary of getting sucked into long term contracts that they don’t want, warns Michael Geist, Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa. “Be careful about getting locked-in. Portability offers flexibility but it can be trumped by consumer contracts.”

Geist said number portability “will open doors to greater opportunity for consumers” but added other changes should be carried out such as reducing the industry’s reliance on long-term contracts and locked devices.

Price is not the only criterion said Fox, whose company also offers organizations analysis of cellular and wireless technology services.

She suggested users also ask themselves the following:

• Does my current plan serve my business needs?

• What types of services and products would be most appropriate for my needs?

• Do I need to upgrade or downgrade?

• Am I getting the lowest price for my services?

Fox also urged companies and individuals to be aware of what switching carriers may entail. “Some people mistakenly think all it takes is a call.”

She said there would be paper work to consider. Users should also look out for instances of double billing that could occur in the ensuing paper shuffle, the analyst said. She said just as many consumers have been waiting for portability to be implemented, some carriers have been working overtime to get users locked into multi-year service plans before March 14.

Number portability, also known as wireless local number portability (WLNP), has been sought by Canadian businesses as far back as 1994. A similar structure was adopted in the U.S. in 2003.

Fox, who chaired a WLNP lobby committee under the then Canadian Business Telecommunications Alliance (CBTA), said it took CRTC 13 years to implement LNP because “the dominant carriers didn’t want to do it.” She said it was seen as an opportunity for consumers to leave existing providers and shop around for lower prices usually offered by new entrants to the market.

“The providers have been dragging their heels because they said WLNP provided no value and was complicated.”

Geist agrees; “I think the foot-dragging of the current wireless carriers who sought lengthy delays is the primary reason for the long wait. Indeed, the current implementation timeline was imposed on the carriers”

Canada’s growing cell phone and wireless service market is led by three providers: Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc, and Telus Corp.

In a statement yesterday, however, Rogers Communication suggested that WLNP would not really have much of an impact.

“We think ultimately WLNP will be a non-event, said Taanta Gupta, vice president, Rogers Communications.

Gupta said she based this assumption on the experience of the U.S., where less than six per cent of American wireless users ported their numbers a year after WLNP was implemented.

She said when the U.S. introduced WLNP, industry experts had predicted more than 39 million users would switch carriers during the first year of implementation. However, she said Federal Communications Commission numbers later revealed only 8.5 million switched carriers.

“There was no long term effect on churn rates in the U.S.”

Last year, a start-up voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service provider had filed before the CRTC complaints of anti-competitive behaviour against Rogers over the issue of WLNP restriction .

Comwave Telecom Inc., of Toronto alleged it was losing business because Rogers was unjustly restricting provision of local number portability service to Rogers customers who wanted to switch to Comwave. Another Canadian carrier, Telus Corp., views WLNP as a positive development.

“Telus considers number portability as an opportunity,” said Darren Entwistle, the company chief executive. He said the inability of mobile users to port their numbers is one of the “biggest impediments” Telus faces to growing its “relatively low market share within Central Canada.”

The company has been working for the past 18 months on adjustments to its system to ease the porting of numbers according to Chris Langdon, vice-president, network services, Telus.

“There probably going to be a pent-up demand to switch. We might lose some customers but we’ll also gain new ones. We’re geared for client satisfaction in tems of customer care, network infrastructure and availability of cool products,” said Langdon.

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