Regulator launches new inquiry

Switching mobile provider to be made easier

Mobile phone OfcomSwitching mobile phone provider will be made easier under plans announced by the regulator.

Consumers currently face different processes for switching mobile provider, depending on whether they wish to keep their existing mobile phone number.

Ofcom is concerned these processes may cause confusion and increase the perception that switching is hard, meaning consumers may miss out on the best deals.

It has announced a series of options including a simple process – technically known as ‘gaining provider led’ switching – which places the responsibility for the switch entirely in the hands of the company to which the customer is moving. This would mean the customer would no longer need to contact their current provider to switch, unless they wish to.

Ofcom is also considering simplifying the process for obtaining a code which allows a customer to keep their existing number.

Enabling consumers to make good, well-informed choices is an important part of Ofcom’s work. This can include switching to a different provider, but if this process is not straightforward then people can be less inclined to switch, and competition can be restricted.

How it works today

When switching mobile provider, a customer can choose whether to receive a new phone number or keep their existing one by ‘porting’ it to the new mobile network.

To keep their number, the customer must contact their current provider for a ‘porting authorisation code’, or PAC, and take this to the provider they plan to join. If the customer does not intend to keep their number then, if they are on a monthly contract, they must deal with the existing provider to stop that service and organise a new service with the new provider themselves.

Ofcom is concerned that some operators can make this difficult, making it unnecessarily hard for consumers to switch. Last month, Ofcom opened an industry-wide inquiry into arrangements for cancelling and terminating services.

Switching rates for mobile services have fallen from 9% to 6% between 2013 and 2014, according to Ofcom research. This can be due to a complex range of factors, something which Ofcom is continuing to research.

Simpler, more effective processes

Today’s consultation is part of Ofcom’s wider work to make it easier to switch between communications services.

Last month, Ofcom made broadband switching simpler and smoother by introducing a ‘one touch’ process for millions of broadband customers of providers using the Openreach copper network – including BT, EE, Sky and TalkTalk.

As well as today’s mobile switching consultation, Ofcom is also examining consumers’ experiences of switching  ‘triple play’ – landline, broadband and pay TV – services between providers using the Openreach, Virgin Media cable or Sky satellite networks.

Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Consumers should be able to switch their mobile providers with minimum hassle to take advantage of the best deals on the market.

“Ofcom has recently made switching easier for millions of broadband users, and we are now focusing on improving the process for mobile customers.”

The closing date for responses to the consultation is 6 October.

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