Ofcom faces potential MNP delay


Ofcom said last week it would not be deterred by the Competition Appeal Tribunal’s (CAT) decision ordering it to reconsult on its two-hour number porting initiative.

Ofcom had originally intended to turn mobile number portability (MNP) a two-hour system by September 2009, after it was reduced from five days to two days in April. This decision was appealed by Vodafone and joined by Orange, T-Mobile, O2 and BT, with the CAT ruling that insufficient analysis and consultation had taken place, cost estimates were inaccurate and consumer benefit was not sufficiently demonstrated. Ofcom’s original timeframe could now be postponed as a result of the judgement.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We need to consider the CAT judgement, but we are working hard to continue to make progress on two-hour porting – it’s still on the agenda.”

3, who has the most to gain from faster MNP as the newest entrant in the UK market, has been a staunch supporter of the two-hour system ever since it was announced by Ofcom last year. 3 chief executive Kevin Russell last week expressed his concern that the decision would stall the implementation of something that would benefit consumers. He also said the appeal by the “Big Four” networks was part of their strategy to keep prices high and slow down moves to make the market more competitive.

Said Russell: “This is a technical and legal decision that has somehow completely forgotten the consumer and is in danger of delaying the current process.

“Ofcom is trying to achieve fast, hassle-free mobile number porting to give UK consumers flexibility and choice, but the incumbents have consistently put up roadblocks. This could force the delivery date back from September 2009 into 2010. 

“How is that Vodafone, 3 and O2 customers, just over the sea in Ireland, have been able to move their mobile number between operators in around 20 minutes for many years?” 

Vodafone senior public policy and regulation manager Don Wilson told Mobile News that Ofcom’s original proposal had many implications for customers that would be difficult to understand, and was estimated to cost Vodafone upwards of £30 million to implement, contrary to the £5 million Ofcom had spelt out.

“The CAT has agreed with us that Ofcom has not done enough of an analysis to make a case. Ofcom needs to think again and come back with some new proposals,” said Wilson.

“Ofcom has said ‘the quicker the better’, but the CAT has ruled that this is not necessarily self evident. And if it is quicker, what kind of a difference is it going to make? In one of Ofcom’s own surveys, only three out of 1000 people said that the time taken to port their number was off putting.

“We want a process that is convenient for the customer, but speed isn’t the only thing. You still need a system that makes sure you have a number ported by someone who isn’t the customer, without the customer knowing. The new recipient led process makes it a lot harder to identify the customer, as the new network doesn’t have the customer information to check against. And customers may also find it difficult to understand this new process.”

Wilson added that the market was already competitive, and there was no suggestion that porting time was a significant barrier to customers switching networks.

T-Mobile agreed that Ofcom’s cost figures were “unrealistic” but said it supported the overall concept of two-hour MNP.

“We welcome the opportunity to re-engage with Ofcom and the industry in order to finalise this specification and properly cost it to make two-hour porting possible,” a T-Mobile spokesman said.

“We support an eventual move to two-hour direct porting as this will deliver a clear benefit to customers. The additional time for reflection will ensure this process proceeds to realistic timescales and with due consideration of all the technical issues and costs.”

Orange UK’s head of government policy and mobile regulation Simon Grossman added: "Whilst we’re broadly pleased with the decision that the Tribunal has reached, we regret that it’s been necessary for this appeal to happen.

“The Tribunal found that Ofcom had conducted an insufficiently rigorous analysis of the costs and benefits of moving to a new system for porting numbers, which is something we raised with Ofcom right from the start.

“In particular, the Tribunal found that customers wouldn’t benefit from these changes in the way Ofcom said they would.
“We hope that Ofcom will learn important lessons from this judgment and make future decisions purely on the basis of evidence, rather than pre-determined policy objectives, unsupported by what really matters to our customers.”

The full CAT hearing can be read at http://www.catribunal.org.uk/documents/Judgment_1094_180908.pdf.