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The Churn Wars Begin as WLNP Approaches
Posted: 15-Nov-2003 [Source: Mobile Tech News]

[Wireless Local Number Portability (WLNP) is launching on November 24 and US carriers are gearing up for expected heavy churn numbers. ]

by Jean Panke, Mobile Tech News -- The top 100 metro areas in the country will begin wireless local number portability (WLNP) on November 24th when the first phase of the FCC ruling takes effect. The new ruling mandates carriers provide customers the opportunity to "port" their current phone number from one carrier to another. The types of porting carriers must support include not only wireless carrier to wireless carrier, but also wireless carrier to wireline carrier, and wireline carrier to wireless carrier.

Number portability has driven churn rates as much as 25% to 50% higher in markets where it has been introduced overseas. In-Stat/MDR believes that number portability will have a significant effect on churn in the US, resulting in an additional 22.2 million churning subscribers in its first full year after introduction.

TMNG recently released results from their September 2003 research on the impact of WLNP and found 42% of wireless subscribers are aware they can take their telephone numbers with them when WLNP goes into effect. That means that the wireless industry should be prepared to handle approximately 30 million porting requests or 60 million transactions during the first 12 months, since each request must be processed by two wireless providers.

Of the 30 million porting requests, TMNG estimates that approximately 18 million subscribers will switch wireless providers due to WNP; another 12 million subscribers who plan to switch wireless providers anyway will now take advantage of the opportunity to take their telephone numbers with them. The TMNG study also found that 16% of respondents are aware that they can transfer their home telephone number to a wireless line. This could add 19 million porting requests -- six million from people who do not have a cell phone and 13 million from people who do.

Traq-wireless recently released the results of its research on wireless local number portability (WLNP) and the impact on the US enterprise market. The results of the study show that 16% of respondents would definitely switch carriers with an additional 46% likely to switch. Better coverage and pricing comprised 71% of the respondents' primary reasons for switching.

Mobile Competency has recently released its rankings of the six largest US carriers' readiness for WLNP. They found that while Nextel, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless are currently the best prepared to ensure that enterprise customers can port with little or no service disruption, they still appear only 50 percent ready for WNP.

The report cautions enterprise users considering changing carriers as soon as WLNP takes effect on November 24 not to port until the end of Q1 2004. The report warns CIOs that it takes two well-prepared carriers to make a successful port, and so far, only a handful of carriers are anywhere near ready.

Mobile Competency interviewed the six largest U.S. carriers to assess their ability to provide enterprise customers with a smooth transition of key services, such as wireless data. According to their findings, one month before the WNP deadline, no major carrier had completed testing with all five of its largest rivals. Although most major carriers have created WNP FAQs and "tip sheets" for consumers considering porting, only Nextel and Sprint PCS provide guidelines that specifically address enterprise issues and concerns.

Although the FCC mandated WLNP, it did not adopt standardized procedures for all carriers to follow. Several agreements have been announced recently among the various US carriers as they attempt to clarify number portability issues and allow customers to proceed with carrier switching in an efficient manner.

T-Mobile announced one such agreement with AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Nextel, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless on October 23 stating they had signed reciprocal service level agreements with each of the other five national carriers that establish consistent rules for implementation of WLNP. T-Mobile went on to say, "the agreements reflect the cooperation among the national carriers to ensure that customers of all carriers have a positive experience when they decide to switch carriers and retain their phone number."

AT&T Wireless and Cingular announced an agreement on November 14 detailing how they will port customers' phone numbers between them beginning November 24. They also announced they had each signed porting agreements with Sprint PCS.

In decided whether or not to change carriers following introduction of WLNP, consider the following points:

1) First, not all numbers may be transferable. Not all numbers can be transferred in all markets and by all providers. Remember, initially WLNP will only be available in larger markets. Remember, if you cancel your current service with your existing carrier, you may end up losing your number. Also, "L" means local and you cannot port your number to another metro area

2) Are you a free agent? If you still have a contract with your current carrier, you may be charged termination fees and invoice balances under your current contract. Check with your current carrier about when your current contract expires.

3) You may also need a new phone when you switch carriers even if you are keeping your old number. Your current handset may not be compatible with your new carrier's network. Also, familiarize yourself with your new carrier's rate plans, coverage area and features as you will need to choose a new plan. This is also a good time to consider what beyond voice you might like to subscribe to. This is a time to consider data services including messaging, games, music, special ringers and screensavers and the sending and sharing of photos. If these services are important to you, ask in advance about data rate plans, coverage and transmission speeds. This may also be time to consider the "bundled" services approach. This service allows you to put all your telecommunications into a bundled package combining local service, long distance and wireless. This is one possible way you can reduce overall costs for telecommunications.

4) If you decide to go ahead and change your carrier, you need to bring a bill from your existing carrier to your new one. If you don't have a copy of your bill, know the exact details of your account, including name (for example, is it billed to "Bill" or "William" Smith), address, account number and phone number. If the information doesn't match, the request to transfer your number may be delayed. Your new wireless carrier will need your authorization to move your wireless number from your existing carrier. This protects you from carriers switching your number without your permission. Also, continue to use your current phone until your new phone is fully functional. Service to your old phone will be automatically disconnected once the number has been transferred.

5) How long will it take? For wireless customers, the FCC set a goal of transferring a single number within 2-1/2 hours after the new carrier calls the previous carrier. The Cingular site reports it could take longer for your phone to be fully functional (such as being able to receive incoming calls.). It could take days for multiple lines to be switched. Landline companies have four days to transfer a number. Local Number Portability (LNP) is an inter-carrier process requiring the cooperation of your previous service provider, and new activations involving a ported number will take longer than traditional wireless service activation. So, you should be prepared to experience delays as you make the switch -- especially during the first few months of LNP

6) After all this be sure and put your new phone to the test. Many carriers offer trial periods for new customers, giving you the chance to see how well your phone works -- and where. Take the phone for a "test spin" to make sure you're satisfied that the device performs reliably for your needs in your local coverage area and elsewhere. If you're not satisfied, you should return your phone during the trial period and get your money back. Note that you may still owe fees for activation and minutes used.

For those of you who are PTP fans, Nextel's site reports you cannot bring your Direct Connect(SM) walkie-talkie number to another carrier. Only your cellular or traditional home or business telephone numbers can be brought to or from Nextel. They also note you can bring phone numbers from all pre-paid carriers (except for Boost) to Nextel if the carrier allows it. Pre-paid balances, however, do not transfer.

In the midst of all this number portability frenzy, carriers are preparing for expected heavy churn numbers with new offerings and incentives in hopes of enticing new subscribers. Here are some of the latest offerings:

AT&T is offering the Wireless 90-Day Best Deal Promise which allows customers who sign up after Nov. 2, 2003 to change calling plans within 90 days of service activation if the company chooses to offer a better deal on a qualified AT&T Wireless plan. They can do so without penalty or a need for contract renewal, the company said. The AT&T Wireless 90-Day Best Deal Promise will be offered nationally on all two-year contracted rate plans and will be available for a limited time. Equipment offers are excluded, the company said.

Alltel has a 1000 local anytime minutes plan available with unlimited night and weekend minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes for $39.95. Their week-end minutes run from 9:00pm Friday to 5:59am Monday with Monday through Thursday night minutes begin at 9:00pm.

Cingular is offering an initial bonus of 500 Rollover Minutes when you sign up for select plans starting at $39.99 per month. These are in addition to the Rollover Minutes you receive in the rate plan you choose, and they roll over from month to month for up to 12 months. Need more night time? Get Night & Weekend minutes starting at 7 p.m. for $7 per month per line on rate plans $29.99 and higher.

Nextel has begun offering Number Guard(SM). Number Guard is a free service that can be placed on one or all of the numbers on your account. Requests by other carriers to take your phone number will be rejected until you remove this service from your Nextel account. Nextel is promoting its National Instant Connect Plans. Nights are 9:00pm to 7:00am. Weekends begin Fri. at 9:00pm and end Mon. at 7:00am.

Sprint PCS customers can pay $5 more a month for unlimited night and weekend minutes at 7pm instead of 9pm. Customers on a plan with at least 500 minutes can add up to four phones for free for three months. The added numbers cost $20 a month after that.

T-Mobile offers a three-day weekend for free domestic calls. Its Get More Weekends plan runs from 12:00am Friday through 11:59pm Sunday, local time. T-Mobile has also dropped the price of the SideKick to $200, almost a third off its original price.

Verizon is offering unlimited night and weekend minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes within your family calling group, and a free Nokia 3589i when you purchase the Promotional America's Choice Family Share Plan(SM). Night hours begin at 9pm and end at 5:59am. Weekend hours are 12am Saturday to 11:59pm Sunday.

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