FCS calls on industry to avert number porting chaos

The Federation of Communications Services (FCS) has urged CPs to wake up over ongoing numbering and porting issues and help prevent industry chaos.

The industry body has issued a clarion call in response to fears that unless the comms sector clearly understands what needs to be done to secure ‘safe’ numbers for customers the market could become an unregulated mess by the time Openreach turns off 16 million PSTN lines and WLR in 2025.

Ofcom is in the throes of investigating several options to take UK number porting forward, including blockchain technology, a prototype platform and a portal.

These will enable industry groups and selected service providers to test the services before a decision is made in early 2020 on a way forward. Feedback on progress from the ICT industry is vital according to Paul Overbury, Senior Technology Expert at the watchdog.

Speaking at last month’s The Future of Numbers event staged in London by the FCS, Overbury said: “Two years ago there was no path to fix the numbering issue but the blockchain is now built with porting and number allocation and a management process.

“Over time we’re looking to build long-term trust into telephone numbers and cryptography will lock in that trust. People in the industry should take an interest in this as it is important to all stakeholders.”

FCS CEO Itret Latif said: “Number ownership needs to be clarified and there should be a root and branch exploration.”

Latif acknowledges that progress is being made by Ofcom and NICC – the technical forum for the UK comms sector that develops interoperability standards for public communications networks and services – but is concerned over the lack of progress in organising a sector ownership and governance structure that will allow the industry to move together to acquire and operate the appropriate number portability and management solution before the 2025 switch off.

“The number porting initiative from Ofcom gives industry a great start point to link all the related areas of numbers, including management, porting, interconnect, Exchange Database (EDB) and CLI authentication and, for the first time, look at these as ultimately a single system rather than individual silos,” he said.

“The FCS, within its white paper – UK Number Routing in an All IP World – has identified key areas that must be clarified and acted upon to ensure we have a process that offers a level playing field for industry going forward, and a flexible and competitive service for B2B and B2C.”

According to the white paper the industry should own, fund and operate an independent Number Porting Organisation and Governance processes, with Ofcom oversight and a Number Management Authority.

The white paper also states that the Number Porting process should not offer a competitive advantage to any network operator, range holder or any other stakeholder. Another tenet is that the routing of traffic between all parties that want to participate is available to all with no competitive advantage given to any one company, group of companies or individuals.

“The system must be future proofed to allow for changes in the way that people and organisations may choose to communicate with each other in the future, whether for voice or data services,” said Latif.

“We call upon Ofcom to take the first step to mandate the telecoms industry to organise an ownership and governance structure that will allow the sector to acquire and operate an appropriate number portability and management solution before the 2025 switch off.”

Dave Dadds, FCS Chair, stated: “It would not be unreasonable in the new world that the individual consumer or business end user, metaphorically speaking, owns the number and is registered as an owner on the Ofcom Number Management system.

"This is a key milestone for all involved in the comms industry. Get this right and our industry and the end user will benefit. Get it wrong and the industry could find end users moving away to other communications methods more and more.”

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