The Perils of Porting Numbers
If you are making changes to your communications technology (changing carriers, changing to SIP trunks, moving to a cloud system, etc.) then you will have to move your existing phone numbers from your existing carrier to your new provider. This process is called porting numbers.
We’re all told that the number porting process is highly-regulated, and that there are time frames for each step of the process. It should all be very predictable and well-defined. But in my experience with multiple clients, this is often not the case.
The process does go smoothly—sometimes. But it can also be quite challenging.
Here’s how it’s supposed to go
You provide a list of numbers to be ported to the new (receiving) carrier or cloud provider. The receiving/cloud provider is responsible for coordinating the move with the carrier that currently has the numbers. The list of numbers to be moved should be validated (typically using a customer service record (CSR) that shows the services that are billing on the account) and a date agreed upon by you and both carriers.
It seems simple enough. So what makes this so hard?
Here's how it really goes
Your current carrier’s records are incorrect
If you've dealt with carriers very much, this won’t surprise you. For example, sometimes records don’t show numbers that we know are in use. Or they may contain numbers for other companies. We've also seen records where the information is fragmented and very difficult to find. All of these issues lead to the rejection of the request for porting the numbers.
Orders are often rejected
Minor errors can result in a rejection. Things as simple as the placement of the comma in the customer’s name have resulted in a rejected order. For example, if the receiving carrier submitted your name as "ABC Company Inc." and the current carrier has the name as "ABC Company, Inc.," the simple lack of the comma in the company name can result in a rejection. Combine this with inaccurate records and it becomes difficult; you have to place an order to correct the records of the existing carrier (and wait for that order to be completed) before they will allow someone to work the order to port the numbers.
Back to the beginning, again
Often, if an order is rejected, the clock is reset. If the rules say that the current carrier has five business days to respond to the receiving carrier, the time period starts over and you usually have to wait the full five days again—even if the discrepancy is fixed immediately.
Carriers have their own weird rules
Most carriers have two types of orders: simple and complex. Typically, complex orders take longer to work. However, there is no firm definition across carriers as to when an order becomes “complex.” And a “complex” order may have to become a “project.” So for one carrier, any order with over 100 numbers is considered complex. Other carriers define complex orders as those with more than 50 numbers.
Here's what you can do
On a recent project, the receiving carrier had a rule that only one order at a time could be placed against the client’s SIP trunks. It took 30 days for them to get an order worked (if everything went perfectly) and during that time no other orders could be placed to move additional numbers to the SIP trunks. Once the first group of numbers was ported, another order could be placed, and it would take at least 30 days to be worked. We had 34 sites that were moving to SIP. They ended up creating some sort of work around so that our project didn't string out for 34+ months, but as soon as the main work was done, the "one order at a time" rule was back in place.
So what can you do to make this process easier?
Set expectations properly
Prepare your boss and set expectations that there will probably be challenges. And recognize that it's an illogical process, and don't let it drive you crazy.
Get your records early in the process
As soon as you know you will be moving to another carrier, order a copy of your CSR(s) from your existing carrier. Sometimes it takes a while, or several requests to get them. Give yourself time to gather the information. Starting this process 90 days before you want to move the numbers is quite reasonable. The bigger the project, the more important it is to take this step early.
Compare the numbers
Do a thorough comparison of the numbers you want to move with the numbers on your CSR. Remember that the records may have errors. You should comb that information thoroughly, and understand what is supposed to move and what may be staying in place. Remember that one mistake can get your entire order rejected.
Give yourself more time than you think you need
Add an extra 30 days (at a minimum) to allow for an order rejection. This means that you should have your order in place at least 60 days before you want to port the numbers if you are moving more than 100 numbers. Give yourself two to four weeks to obtain your CSR information and to place orders to get it corrected if necessary.
Think about taking baby steps
If an order is rejected due to a problem with one number, it may be easier to remove it from the order to allow the rest of the process to continue. This will give you time to place orders or do whatever may be necessary to resolve the issue with that one number, while minimizing the impact to the remainder of the order. I received a list of toll free numbers that were on my client's account from their carrier (carrier A). This same list of numbers was submitted by carrier B for porting, but was then rejected by Carrier A (remember, they are the ones who provided the list in the first place) because one number had a problem. We ended up taking that number off the list and re-submitting it (yes, the time frame started over) so that we could get the other 92 numbers ported.
So, if you’re preparing to port numbers, expect the unexpected, do your research, be prepared to adjust quickly and most of all—get a head start. Good luck.