On April 8, a major shift is taking place in the wireless industry: the system and database that governs local number portability (LNP) and call routing in the United States — the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) — is being switched over to a completely new system and administrator, one region at a time. This “cutover” is scheduled to begin in the Southeast U.S. region — the largest, with 145 million phone numbers — on April 8, and culminate with the Western, West Coast and Southwest regions on May 20.

LNP has been a part of the telecom landscape since it was mandated as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. For consumers, it simply means they can keep their telephone numbers when they change carriers. With 20-plus years of continuous improvement, the process is quite seamless for consumers, but behind the scenes, the process is complex. The NPAC, which houses more than 750 million telephone numbers, is queried more than a million times each day, providing real-time information about how calls and texts should be routed.

With more than 2,000 carriers and the processing of 1.8 million transactions per day, not only is the NPAC cutover a complex project, but it is planned to begin with no provision, or alignment, on an approach to roll back to the incumbent NPAC provider. The FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, has called this unacceptable.

Looking at the issue more closely, there are two potential scenarios that could occur if the new NPAC doesn’t work properly upon cutover:

  • An outgoing call rings and rings, with no answer. A user dials a number in their phone book but is suddenly unable to get through. There is no answer and no voicemail, and texts also do not go through. Yet others dialing the same number are connected.
  • A number port failure occurs. A customer purchases a new phone and ports their number to a new service provider. The customer’s port request goes into limbo and becomes ‘pending,’ putting them out of service until the issue is fixed.

Both of these scenarios are unlikely but are possible. In both cases, the customer experience is poor. Customers may be left in the dark without a working mobile number, or have the ability to make and receive some calls and text messages, but not others.

But the other groups that could be affected significantly if the new system does not work seamlessly is mobile and consumer electronics retailers that sell devices and services. Customers looking to port their mobile numbers or sign up for new mobile services may put these retailers on the receiving end of complaints from dissatisfied customers who don’t understand why their incoming and outgoing calls and text messages are not working properly. It’s likely that they’ll receive these complaints without understanding themselves why the issue is occurring until a notification eventually trickles down. Customers may also blame the phone manufacturer, resulting in additional confusion on the retail floor.

Other potential issues that can be disruptive for mobile and consumer electronics retailers include:

  • A delay or restriction in further number porting
  • Customers experiencing out-of-store difficulties with their mobile service
  • The inability to provide new mobile number assignments

Each of these issues could directly translate to a loss of revenue.

So, what can mobile and IoT retailers do to prepare for any issues with the NPAC cutover?

  • Stay up to date on the cutover timeline and its potential impact on your business. Share this information with store and customer service associates, so they are aware of potential issues.
  • Talk to your carrier partners about their plans for implementation of the new NPAC system and develop a contingency plan.
  • Establish a business process to capture and escalate any issues to your carrier partners.

While the likelihood of major failures with the NPAC is small, understanding the issues and having a process in place to deal with the potential impact on business is recommended.

Rand Bailin is a partner at Sprosty Network, with more than 20 years of leadership experience in technology operations. Rand’s expertise is identifying leading wireless technologies and market opportunities due to his deep operational experience in developing and launching new mobile ventures. A respected leader in the wireless industry from Sprint/Nextel, Rand led the acquisition of Boost Mobile, as well as retail plays by leveraging his strong experience where connectivity meets retail. His specialty is understanding how technology can lead to simplification of the customer experience. Rand served as president and CEO of Zubie, a joint venture leader in the auto-telematics aftermarket. Rand holds an MBA from the Kogod School at American University.

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