Switching to VoIP-based solutions is becoming increasingly popular among businesses.
This is thanks to reduced costs and greater flexibility. But what happens to your existing numbers when making the switch? How easy is it to port a phone number over? And what steps can you take to ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible?
The future is VoIP
The telecoms industry is moving towards an internet protocol-based (IP) model and by 2025 BT aim to have completely converted from the old public switched telephone network (PSTN) standard to IP nationwide. This comes at the same time as a large-scale fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) rollout which will see over two million premises served directly by fibre as opposed to copper or ISDN by 2020. And by 2025 this is expected to have reached more than 10 million. Learn more about what actions your business may need to take before the big ISDN switch off.
So if we’re all eventually going to be IP-based, why bother making the switch now and go through the steps needed to transfer a phone number to VoIP before you have to?
Because there are major business advantages.
The biggest advantage is the savings in cost of having an ISDN line and you can easily expand your capacity as the business grows or to cope with seasonal variations in demand. You can save on the cost of an in-house PABX too by switching to a cloud-based solution, which means reduced maintenance and power costs too. And of course, you can make cheaper calls, particularly if you regularly call long distances or overseas.
The right solution
The first step in moving from traditional telephony to a VoIP-based product is to identify the right fit for your business. This might not be as easy as it seems because in recent years there has been a huge proliferation of companies offering different types of VoIP based services.
It’s therefore important to select carefully. Look at the reviews both the service and the company has received, study the contracts and terms and conditions carefully, and if possible, talk to other customers. Remember that price should only be part of the equation; you need to be looking at the levels of service on offer too. The cheapest provider won’t necessarily be the best.
Porting phone numbers to VoIP
Once you’ve selected the right solution for you, you will need to then port your numbers from your old service to your VoIP service. Although this is a process that telecoms providers have to provide by law, it’s not without its issues.
Communications regulator Ofcom issues number ranges to providers in batches. Once a service provider has a batch of numbers allocated to them, it then becomes responsible for all numbers within that range, and although they may do this via a network operator if they don’t have a direct network themselves.
These batches are typically allocated in blocks of between 1,000 and 10,000 numbers and are then allocated to customers as single numbers or in smaller blocks. There are currently around 600 communication provider (CP) companies in the UK that hold batches of numbers, but only around 100 have a network hosting the numbers.
So, what happens when you want to port a phone number between different providers?
The responsibility of terminating calls to a specific telephone number moves from the original range holder provider to the gaining communications provider. The process for network providers to follow when porting a number and the way traffic is routed once the number leaves the range hold is complicated, but in simple terms, calls are still sent to the original range holder and are then forwarded to the new provider.
How porting works
So what’s the actual process of porting a phone number to a VoIP service?
Your first step should be checking that the number you hold is live on your current telephony product and that you understand that when the number ports to your new VoIP solution the current product will cease. Any additional services ran over your line such as broadband on an analogue line, fire or intruder alarm monitoring services or card processing services will also cease.
What you don’t need to do is place an order with the existing provider to cease the line, this will happen as part of the porting process. If you do place an order to cancel, then you may risk losing the number altogether.
You will of course also need an internet connection for the new VoIP service to operate over. This is a good opportunity to review your needs and perhaps upgrade your connectivity to ensure you have the right speeds needed to carry you voice traffic or ensuring quality of service (QoS) on the line.
Switching from broadband to an Ethernet leased line, for example, can give you the synchronous speeds and added reliability that is needed to ensure that your VoIP service runs smoothly and delivers a consistent service for you and your customers.
In order for the new VoIP network to progress the porting request, you’ll need to supply the service provider with signed authorisation to port your number or numbers on a Letter of Authority. They will then submit the porting request to the losing communications provider, and range holder, the Letter of Authority will be validated and processed between the gaining network and the losing network and range holder.
The lead times for porting numbers are in the most part agreed with providers in their mutual porting agreements and, depending on the volume of numbers that are porting, can typically take between a fortnight and 30 working days.
It is important to plan ahead to ensure that your porting date suits your plans. You can often request a specific future port date beyond 30 working days if you have other timescales to adhere to and most providers can change the port date if required or plan for porting to be carried out of hours, however, this can often incur additional charges.
A good VoIP provider will guide you through the porting process and help you plan ahead to ensure that all runs smoothly with little to no interruption to your service.