Moving your existing phone number to a new carrier can take up to four weeks, though usually the process is much quicker. You may think that these telecoms companies are dragging their feet, but the reality is that plenty of important things are happening behind the scenes.

In this post, we explore the process that takes place when you decide to move your number from one provider to another (and why the task can’t be completely immediately).

Porting a Number

In order to fully answer the question, “How long does it take to port a number?” you first need to look at the process of getting your telephone number moved from one carrier to another. There are national regulations in many countries that make it mandatory for telephone services to allow customers to move their numbers to other providers. However, the rules are not always easy to enforce.

Some telephone carriers and VoIP services are reluctant to let customers go and try to make the process as difficult as possible. For businesses, a long lead time in porting a number could make the task damaging to profitability, and some companies might decide that the inconvenience is just not worth the move.  

That said, you shouldn’t experience any period when your number is not active. The issue of changeover time concerns the lead time. At the moment when the number switches to a different carrier, the move should be instant.

Before you get started, it is a good idea to check whether your current contract includes termination penalties. Make sure that the savings or service improvements offered by your new carrier are be worth the cost of breaking your existing contract.

A Timely Transfer

If all goes well, your number will be moved to your chosen new carrier within a period of seven days. You’ll first have to open an account with your new provider, who might insist that you take a new number to use while the transfer process takes place. You don’t have to use that number. Instead, you can carry on using your regular telephone number with your old carrier.

You should receive an email detailing your transfer order from your new provider, since the new company is in charge of managing the transfer process. You don’t need to inform your current carrier yourself. It’s also better to wait to tell your present carrier that you wish to terminate your contract until the changeover occurs. Any problems in the transfer process might mean that the move does not occur before your planned termination date.

The confirmation email may be an automated communication. However, this is not a bad sign. It means that your request is in the system. The process of porting a number involves several companies and each will have its own service standards. Still, your new carrier should be able to give you an estimate of the transfer date in the first email that you receive.

If you don’t receive an email within 24 hours of your request to port your number, contact your new provider again. If they haven’t initiated the task, then you have already lost a day.

Proof of Ownership

Your new carrier will ask you to send in a phone bill from your current carrier, which shows your name (or company name), the address on the account and the telephone number. You will also need to send a signed form to confirm your request.

These two items of documentation are requirements specified by the FCC. Be sure to send in those documents quickly because your new provider won’t contact your existing carrier until it has received them.

Rejection of Number Port

There are a few reasons why your port request may get rejected.

The first possibility is if the transfer form is not filled in correctly. Even a single spelling mistake can give your existing carrier an excuse not to release your number. If you give the new carrier a copy of your current phone bill and they copy down all the information correctly onto the transfer form, you likely won’t face delays because of incorrect account information on the request. 

If you’re moving to a different location with a different area code, you won’t be able to take the entire number because the area code will change. However, if you switch to a VoIP carrier, then the port of your old number will be possible, no matter where in the world you move.

If you want the same number but in a different area code, then you’re actually requesting a new number. It might be possible, but it is also likely that the number has already been allocated.

There might be a PIN number on your account. This is often the case with wireless services. If you’re asked to provide your PIN to confirm your request to move your number, the porting request will be denied if you can’t give it. You might never have used that PIN and you might not remember ever receiving one. So when you start the porting process, ask the customer service desk of your current provider for the PIN number if you don’t know it. 

You also won’t be able to move your number if your account is locked. This could be because of inactivity or because you haven’t paid all of your bills. Additionally, if you’re trying to move a prepaid wireless account number, the request will be denied if you don’t have any credit on the account.

Getting Exact Data

If your current carrier starts to put up a fight and claim that the information on the porting request is wrong, call the company and ask for a Customer Service Report.

The Customer Service Report has all of the account information related to your number as it is stored in the carrier’s computer system. Your number porting request will be checked against this information. Any slight deviation from that data gives the provider an excuse to reject your transfer request.

Ideally, you should get the Customer Service Report by email. This will be easy to forward on to the customer service team at your new provider. Call the new company and ask for the case number of your port. That might be called a “ticket number.” Write the number into the email that you send them with the Customer Service Report as an attachment. That way, there can be no confusion over who you are and what case the report relates to.

If your current provider sends the Customer Service Report as a printout in the mail, mail this on to your new provider with a cover letter that includes your case number.

Simple and Complex Number Porting

Telecoms providers classify services as “simple” and “complex.” A complex service has a lot of extras on the account, such as video conferencing, call forwarding, ringing groups and so on. Complex numbers may take longer to port. In order to make your number transfer take less time, simplify your account and strip off all extra services before you request to port it to another carrier.

Another issue that could make your number complex is if you got it through a special deal. If you got a big discount when you signed up for your existing service because the contract included a clause in which you surrendered the right to transfer the number, your carrier will probably tell you about that condition if you call them and tell them you intend to move your number.

You might be able to get around the transfer ban by upgrading your account to a deal that does not have that condition in it. You might also be able to pay a fine to get around the ban. If none of these options are possible, you probably won’t be able to port your number to a new network.

Another reason for a transfer block is if you have an internet service associated with the number. You might not realize this is the case, but if you gave your number when you signed up for the internet, they may be using that as an identifier for your broadband service.

One more block you’ll need to look out for is if you’re in a minimum-term contract. In these cases, you’ll probably still be able to close your account and transfer your number, but you may have to pay an early termination fee. Check with your current provider on the terms of your contract, as you may have to pay that termination fee before they will allow your number to move to a new carrier.

The Transfer Process

When you sign up for a new telephone service and ask to get your old number transferred, the document that kicks off the porting process is called a Letter of Authorization. This is the form that you’ll need to sign and send in.

The document that your new carrier sends to your existing provider to get the number moved is called the Local Service Request (LSR).

If your current provider doesn’t turn down the request, it will send back a Firm Order Commitment (FOC). When your new provider receives that form, the handling customer service operator should send you a letter or an email with the confirmation of the transfer. The FOC includes the date the transfer will take place and this should appear in the letter or email that you receive from your new provider.

VoIP Service Structure

One reason for the delay in porting numbers between VoIP providers is that those service companies may not actually own the numbers they manage. Even though you refer to the number as yours, it actually isn’t. These numbers are legally owned by an underlying carrier, which is called a “competitive local exchange carrier” (CLEC).

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission stipulates that all number porting requests should be completed within two business days. However, that clock only starts ticking once the CLEC of your current provider receives a valid LSR.

In reality, the steps required to get that LSR delivered can take a few days. Remember that your Letter of Authorization needs to be signed by you, so that stage can’t be done by email; it needs an actual inked signature on it. Some service providers will start the process rolling with a faxed authorization, but you will be expected to mail the form as well.

The VoIP company creates the LSR and send it to its CLEC. That company then sends the form to your current provider’s CLEC, officially starting the process. This may take several days, which is why most VoIP companies tell you to expect a speedy port to take about seven days. Toll free numbers usually take eight to ten days to transfer in a timely port.

Successfully Port Your Number

Though some providers don’t take a customer defection personally, some have very strong policies discouraging account termination. You might have a good experience porting your number, but it might also be more challenging than you expect. 

In the best case scenario, your new provider and its CLEC will have efficient systems in place to transmit the Local Service Request immediately so that your present provider can turn it around on the same day. But if your new company is slow and your current provider is reluctant, be prepared for the porting process to take a lot longer.