The Pain of Porting

As with any transition of service from one provider to another, there are steps in the process that are simply dreaded. Transitioning phone service and the option of porting numbers – particularly for businesses – is one of those necessary trials that can be fraught with hangups, paperwork, and waiting. What lies beyond the waiting on a port request may be denial for some or all of the numbers submitted for porting.

Now the process of transitioning to a different provider has potentially complicated greatly. Continue the transition process and potentially lose a number or series of numbers that have been in service for years? Abandon the transition in favor of keeping the quo? If only the process just worked.

This is frustrating and often the reasons behind a port request denial are not clear in regard to the what and why, which becomes an issue in of itself. How do you address the reasons for a number port request when it’s not disclosed in a particularly helpful way? We’ll take a quick look at where number portability came from and how it works to build a foundation to understanding the process and how to avoid some of the typical errors or inaccuracies that drag it out. The end result (we all hope) being a faster, less stressful port.

A Quick History of Number Porting

Plain Old Telephone Systems (POTS) were the old standard for telecommunications with numbers working like latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates on a map. This harkens back further in history when switchboards were operated by humans to direct calls. Calls to be directed by the operator consisted of three tuples or sets of numbers in a 10 digit long string: the first three designating the area code, the second three for the “exchange” linking the number to a physical switch within the switching station, and the last four digits assigned to the caller/receiver’s carrier.

Until 1982, telecommunications operations in the US and Canada were primarily controlled by AT&T. As part of the Bell System breakup occurring in 1982, smaller regional subsidiaries of AT&T were formed that became their own companies and competitors. To facilitate the diversification in the market now that customers likely had the choice between multiple providers serving overlapping regions, number portability was introduced to encourage competition. If customers with provider options could retain numbers with an established duration of service, the cost to business and reachability in switching providers would not be as significant a factor in deciding which provider to choose. Conversely, if number portability were not introduced, the FCC realized the breakup of AT&T would just result in smaller localized monopolies.

How Number Porting Works

With the breakup of AT&T and the introduction of number portability, things weren’t instantly fixed as we’re oft to idealize. Number portability was actually implemented by the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC), which was created as a function of the FCC and eventually developed an additional number system called the Location Routing Numbers (LRN) intended to guide Local Number Portability (LNP).

Rather than the LRN corresponding to different switches and entities as noted above, the LRN is a unique number in the same format as a telephone number. The “telephone-like” number represents an entire telephone switch working off a database called the Service Control Point (SCP). In this new model that resembles the old Bell System model, when a number is dialed it is actually querying the SCP database where the caller’s and receiver’s numbers are exchanged and then connected.

The transition to the LRN system enabled the numerically equivalent “telephone” number to not be bound to a specific region, as explained earlier. For example, under the LRN model, an example number such as 503-xxx-xxxx does not necessarily signify it is based in the Portland, Oregon area. The number could easily have originally been held by someone who lived or operated a business number in the area, but moved outside of the 503 area code and ported the number to their new location’s carrier. The “503” as the first three digits of the number don’t correspond to an area code in the LRN system.

Addressing the Why to a Failed Number Port

Provided the number or numbers were portable as mandated by the FCC, we still need to examine why the port request failed. Before we explore the possibilities, we need to identify what the process looks like:

  1. Your new service provider gathers information from you about your current account and phone numbers, including those that should be ported and those not to port.
  2. The new provider notifies the old provider (also known as the losing carrier or provider in this context) about your requested number port.
  3. The old provider requests validation of the subscriber’s information.
  4. The new provider submits the requested information by the old provider.
  5. The old provider confirms the subscriber(s) and notifies the new service provider.
  6. The new service provider notifies the NPAC of the request to port.
  7. The NPAC creates a pending port and sends a notification to the old service provider.
  8. The old provider notifies the NPAC that it concurs with the port request.
  9. The new service provider notifies the NPAC to activate the port.
  10. The pending port is activated and broadcast to the telecommunications industry network.

Provided there are no errors with validation and the port is “simple” involving no more than one line, the port must be completed within one business day per the NPAC. By this definition, most other ports are “complex” by comparison due to murky and arbitrarily established rules typically regarding release date.

Often losing providers enact rules requiring 10 to 20 days for the porting process to be reviewed. During that time, the information provided by the new provider is scrutinized for inaccuracies. It can occur where even a slight error results in the new provider being notified of a port request rejection – typically at the end of the “porting process review” window and with little useful guidance on how to resolve the inaccuracy. If this occurs, the porting process must be repeated dragging out the time when a customer’s numbers are ported and resulting in repeated follow up communication by the new provider to try to sort out the inaccuracies that caused the initial port request to be denied.

This practice is intended to discourage customers from switching providers under the following pretenses:

  • Customers do not want to lose numbers that have been in service for an appreciable length of time as it will require great effort and incur real costs to inform all relevant parties of the change, which is the primary benefit associated with number portability in the first place.
  • Delays in the porting process could easily be pinned as the fault of the new provider as many steps of the porting process rely on the new provider. This can reduce the customer’s opinion of the new provider before their service has even started.
  • Frustration with delays compounds with the above disenfranchising customers from transitioning to a new provider, and hopefully diminishes any real or perceived advantages the customer may have in regard to the new provider.

What Can Be Done to Aid Successful Porting

Admittedly, many are not familiar with the details found in their phone account with their long time provider. This information is usually in a document known as a Customer Service Report (CSR) that can be cryptic and may not include the full list of numbers service is provided for. Fees may be hidden among line items that are unclear or bundled under an item that doesn’t clearly designate what the fee corresponds to. For accounts with many years of service and have had many changes occur, it may be easier to simply pay the bill than try to parse and attempt to understand.

Successful porting to a new provider is facilitated by having a base understanding of your account as it exists before transitioning and exercising due diligence in the information provided to the new provider for the port. Here’s a quick list of things that help the process go faster and smoother:

  • Ensure all of your phone bills are provided to the new provider for review if your organization’s numbers in service are spread over multiple accounts.
  • When obtaining your CSR, be sure you have the losing carrier pull all the CSRs in a form you can understand.
  • Provide a full list of your telephone numbers – even the ones you don’t intend on porting. The new provider needs to know what is on your account today and which numbers to include or exclude in the port request.
  • Make sure there are no freezes, locks, open tickets, or pending orders on your account.
  • If your account covers multiple addresses, provide each address and which numbers are used there.
  • Refrain from making any changes to your account once you have provided your information your new provider. Any changes made between then and the decision on the port request may constitute an inaccuracy.
  • Inquire if there is a PIN or passcode linked to your account.

The unfortunate reality of porting numbers is the losing provider would really prefer to not see you go leading to heavy scrutiny of the request submission and decision process. When your new provider requests information or to review the accuracy of the provided information, it’s to ensure every I is dotted and every T crossed.

While the number porting process can be long and somewhat left to the whims of the losing provider, NocTel offers interim options to keep moving forward with your service transition. These options include temporary phone numbers which your numbers in the porting process can forward to and in some cases, NocTel can install temporary legacy voice gateways to translate your SIP service to work with POTS.

If you’re fretful over the number porting process, let us know – we’ll find a way to get you going even before the numbers port and any hurdles in the process that may happen along the way.

The 10 Questions You Should Be Asking When Looking Into a New Phone System

So it’s your job to figure out replacing your old phone system. You want to make sure you’re getting something that meets the needs of your organization and at a great price. Maybe you know a little about telecom services – maybe you don’t. Regardless, there are organizations every day getting stuck in less than ideal situations because they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Asking the right questions can make the difference and help you in acquiring as transparent a view as possible about what you need, what you’re going to be getting, and more importantly, what it’s really going to be costing you. Ask these to any service providers you talk to:

1. Do I have the network infrastructure in place for VoIP? What kind of benefits would I see using VoIP over an analog system?

VoIP is the future of telephony. It utilizes newer technology to offer a great level of flexibility and overall quality – think of e-mail compared to snail mail. Studies show the number of VoIP subscribers in the US alone has increased by over 300% since 2010.

While this may be the case, a lack of proper infrastructure can sometimes make implementing a VoIP system challenging and expensive. Rural locations may not have the connection speeds or reliability to service VoIP properly.

Older buildings may be built in such a way that a major remodel is the only way to bring in VoIP. Asking the question and inviting vendors in for a site walk-through is best way to see if your organization can manage the upgrade and if it would be worth it. Many organizations often find that they have everything in place already!

2. What type of service line would help me get the most out of my new phones? POTS, PRI, or SIP?

Phone systems can receive service from a number of different options. Asking this question will open up the conversation about the best means of placing and receiving phone calls both from within and outside the organization. Many organizations will prefer the flexibility and cost of SIP while others will prefer the PRI to avoid potential network interference.

Regardless of what’s right for your specific needs, it’s important for you to be aware of the options and carefully weigh which fits your needs and current circumstances. After inquiring about required infrastructure you may find some options may not be feasible at the moment. However, learning about the options and their requirements can serve as a reference for the future – your organization may not remain in the same location indefinitely and relocation could mean a better ISP option.

3. Does my organization need an on-premise solution or would a hosted solution be a better fit?

Vendors often like to convince organizations that an on-premise solution is the best way to go. Why? Because they’re significantly more expensive. The fact of the matter is, on-premise systems used to be the only way to provide telecommunication services to businesses and other institutions. Now that there are more options, you definitely should be evaluating why hosting your own PBX make sense when they’re so much more expensive and time consuming. For most organizations, a hosted PBX is by far the more effective route to go.

4. Do I need a dedicated Internet connection for voice? What would it look like in terms of cost and quality of service to run voice over my primary connection?

Assuming your organization did decide on a VoIP telephony solution, vendors will often draw up quotes that provide a dedicated service line for voice. These lines are often times the most expensive item on the invoice and often unnecessary. Providers will claim having the dedicated connection ensures you have enough bandwidth for calls and that your phones will work even if your primary Internet connection goes down. When it’s phrased like that, it makes a lot of sense. What they’re not telling you though is that voice data is actually very small by comparison of network traffic. If your organization was running 20 concurrent calls 24 hours a day, that would occupy only 2 Mb of bandwidth.

Most companies and institutions have significantly more bandwidth than that available are don’t come close to saturating their network. What’s more, your primary Internet provider will usually ensure something like 99.99% up time. While that .01% can and does happen, cell phones can be configured to ring in the case that your phones go down so key operations don’t skip a beat.

There are definitely cases where a redundant connection makes sense, but understanding what your options are and weighing the outcomes of different scenarios is the right mindset to have when designing your new system.

5. What kind of taxes and surcharges are included in the costs and how are they calculated?

You’d be surprised how much taxes and surcharges cost on a phone invoice (or maybe you wouldn’t!). What’s more is that companies often ignore these fees when advertising costs to potential new customers. They’re just “standard rates that everyone charges”. While they’re not wrong that a significant amount of the vendors include them on invoices, it’s certainly not everyone and there are parameters about how much they can be. Ask the question, learn what the limits are, and find out the real cost of your invoice.

6. Can you run through a sample copy of an invoice you might give to a customer?

There can be many different line items on a phone invoice and it varies by every company. Some companies even will have special quarterly or annual invoices with different lines items. Asking this question is the best way to become familiar with your bill and exactly what you’re paying for each month. Takes notes and then compare them with other companies you’re getting quotes from.

7. Does your quote include necessary support and maintenance costs?

Support and/or maintenance costs on phone system components are very often required by certain vendors. While you may think that it’s standard practice for the industry, it’s not. There are a number of companies that don’t charge a dime and offer the same level of service. Why pay support costs when your phones don’t need it? Ask vendors to show you how much you’ll be paying annually for support and then break it down to its equivalent monthly cost for a more transparent view at your phone bill.

8. Do prospective providers include a licensing fee for service?

Licensing costs are another area where some phone companies will tack on more costs to your invoice. Make sure you bring up this topic when looking at new phones so you know if it’s another thing you have to pay for, and what exactly you’re getting with that extra cost.

9. What am I getting with my current service provider? Do I need everything or is there room to “trim the fat”?

Making a comparison to your current provider is a crucial first step when determining your needs for a new system. One of the most often overlooked items is the number of phone numbers you have. Service providers often sell blocks of DIDs to customers that include tons of phone numbers you simply don’t need or use; most organizations will only have a few phone numbers and then a receptionist or auto-attendant that transfers calls to specific extensions. When you upgrade to a new system, find out what you’re using so you can optimize what you’re paying for.

10. Are there “premium features” available? Does it cost you extra to provide these features?

Some companies offer different pricing plans based on the feature quantity. This allows them to advertise low costs to get your attention, and then sell you on the more expensive option as “what you need” after they’ve got a foot in the door. Find out if the company you’re dealing with is transparent and honest by getting an idea of why they may be charging more for particular features. If it costs more to you, it should be costing more for them.

NocTel Communications is a hosted VoIP provider dedicated to solving the many problems that face educational institutions today. Known for providing the highest quality service at a fraction of the price of its competitors, NocTel is completely disrupting the telecommunications industry. Click here to get a hassle free estimate of what your district could be paying for phones.

5 Myths about Hosted VoIP Phone Service Debunked

When you hear VoIP, certain ideas about the technology crawl into your mind. It’s another one of those subjects that nearly everyone has an opinion about, without even necessarily knowing how they got there. If you’re one of the individuals who gets a bad taste in your mouth when you think of VoIP, you may want to think again.

  1. Isn’t VoIP a new technology? I’m going to hold off until “they” figure out all the bugs.

VoIP has been around since 1973. This was when Network Voice Protocol was first invented for the ARPANET: The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. The ARPANET was an early packet switching network and the first network to implement the protocol suite TCP/IP. Both technologies became the technical foundation of the Internet.

APANET 1973.

To the rest of us who weren’t involved in creating the Internet, VoIP may seem a lot newer because the public couldn’t easily get access to the technology until around 2004 when the first major companies appeared in the mainstream. Since then, VoIP services for the consumer has come a long way in terms of understanding how to appropriately implement it, but the core technology has remained pretty much the same. Any “bugs” that are still out there are more than likely due to a faulty configuration rather than the technology.

  1. VoIP isn’t as reliable as normal phone lines. And what if my Internet goes down? I can’t take the risk.

To start off debunking this myth, think how your Internet is connected to your facility and how your phones lines are connected. When you get down to the basics, you’ll realize that for BOTH cases, it’s more or less physical cables connected within your building that run out underground and connect to larger cables which fast-track data where it needs to go. There are some exceptions to this of course, but people utilizing fiber, cable, or DSL will all have physical cables coming from somewhere exactly the same as your phone lines do.

Now let’s think about how an outage could occur. It could occur specifically to YOU, or it could occur to a lot of people all at once. For the former case, there would need to be some sort of interruption on the direct lines running out of your building. Considering you have a line for your Internet and a line for your phones, wouldn’t you agree that the odds of your Internet going down is the exact same as the odds of your phone lines going down? Phone lines aren’t inherently more durable; both are designed to be as strong as possible. So from this local perspective, phone lines are no more reliable than VoIP.

So what about an outage that would occur to a lot of people all at once? For the phones, this can occur if the main cable going into the phone company is compromised. This doesn’t happen frequently by any means, but it does happen. Customers can be without service for days at a time. And for Internet? Well the Internet works a little differently. There is no single main cable for the Internet that feeds into a service center. If a line gets severed somewhere, your data is automatically rerouted. When a website can’t be reached, it’s not because the Internet is down, but because specific servers somewhere are. So from this broad perspective, the Internet is actually MORE reliable than normal phone lines.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Well why does it always feel like the Internet isn’t working or that it’s running very slowly?” These problems are more likely the case that your bandwidth is saturated or your PC is having trouble getting a good signal. There are many, many reasons that could be the issue. Regardless of the cause, your VoIP phone service would unlikely be affected because of configuration to prioritize voice data and its direct line connection with the router.

Even if your Internet does go down locally, configuration is now smart enough that incoming calls can be routed to your cell phones without skipping a beat. With personal phones as ubiquitous as they are in the modern world, there shouldn’t ever be an issue.

  1. VoIP doesn’t have the same quality as normal telephone lines. The call always breaks up or there’s an echo.

Call quality is definitely something you have the right to care about. And with VoIP service there are certain situations in which quality can diminish. However, this nearly always comes back to configuration error. VoIP technology makes HD voice possible in a way that an analog line can’t and can offer more than 8 times the sound quality. Many customers are often blown away when they make their first phone call using HD voice on a properly configured network. People typically comment that it sounds like the other person is in the same room as them.

A good VoIP provider will ensure quality of service during and after installation, as well as provide a method to properly monitor it. By taking a proactive approach, any potential issues that could arise can be accounted for and mitigated in extenuating circumstances.

  1. With a hosted phone system, I don’t have the same level of control. I want to make changes at my own leisure.

So go ahead and make those changes! It’s a misconception that hosted systems take away control over how your organization wants to configure its phone network. There are some companies that may choose to retain this control, but many hosted system providers create easy ways for you to do it yourself. In fact, there is great incentive for them to do this as it puts less work for them in terms of needing personnel to take your call, try to interpret what you want, and make the desired changes. Alterations and additions to your network is done by your hand at the click of a mouse.

  1. That all sounds great, but we all know that anything over the Internet isn’t secure. I’m opening myself up to hackers by choosing a VoIP system.

The Internet has its weak points. That much has been proven time and time again. But ask yourself, do you use online banking? I would hazard a guess that you do. As the Internet has matured, its security has gotten strong enough to the point where the mass majority of people are comfortable putting very sensitive information online now. Voice data over the Internet is no different. Good service providers encrypt your call data in the same way a bank would encrypt your account numbers and additionally sets up secure measures so only you can access your account.

Don’t let a fear of the unknown hold you back. Find out more about modern VoIP solutions and bring your business into the future!

NocTel Communications is a hosted VoIP provider dedicated to solving the many communication problems that organizations face today. Known for providing the highest quality service at a fraction of the price of its competitors, NocTel is completely disrupting the telecommunications industry. Click here to get a hassle free estimate of what your organization could be paying for phones.