Monday, November 24, 2003

AT&T, Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon...:

Fool that I am, I switched cellular providers on the first possible day, before the portability system was truly tested. I was probably one of the early requests in the system, having waited at the dealer's door for opening time.

The plan
Dump old provider (whose service area apparently has a polynya in my neighbourhood...), switch number to new provider (whose signal is quite strong at home), and get an additional phone for my wife. All at the lowest price possible.

The reality
10:00H - begin the process, verifying old provider, porting number from my old phone to new phone #1. Generate new assigned number for new phone #2. Generate contract. Oh-oh. Number on contract for unit #1 is not the ported number, but another new assigned number.
10:10H - service person realizes there are no "back" buttons on the service screens, and they cannot start from scratch because a record already exists for my old number.
10:15H - call central customer support. On hold.
10:30H - On hold.
11:00H - get a human operator, begin from scratch. Explain situation. Go through steps, only to realize service did not understand explanation. Start again.
11:20H - Call dropped. Start from scratch.
You get the picture.

I left the store and came back later, finally leaving with our phones at 16:00H. And yes, I did yield to techno-lust, and we have phones with colour, cameras etc. etc. -- "bling-bling" services I will undoubtedly cancel within a month or two as useless, having realized that I cannot keep up with fad mavens like, say, Paris Hilton. Sigh.

Ages ago, one of my friends sent me a message on my first phone capable of e-mail that I never erased because it made me laugh so hard: "Hang up and drive, you yuppy scum!"

Right now, if I want a new phone, the incentive structure pushes me right into the arms of a new provider. Upgrading equipment with my old provider was more expensive than getting a whole new contract. Now, with number portability, there's even less reason to stay with a provider. The business model of exclusive attention to capturing one- to two-year contracts is a sure sign of an immature market, and one that has yet to fully saturate. Of course, a 400% increase in sales in one year is another sign.

On the other hand, uptake for these new data services has apparently been slow - I would bet that it is really a zero-sum situation, or "churn" as the industry puts it, with as many customers leaving a provider as joining. New mobile data services are not attracting as many new customers as expected, and the number portability will change the playing field substantially. Perhaps what we are seeing is a change in the source of growth for the cellular market: the number of "brand new" users is leveling off, and people are either adding additional lines, or replacing land lines with wireless ones. The elephant in the room here is VOIP, or voice-over-internet-protocol, which I suspect will play a huge role in a very short time. Several telephony providers (including some cellular service providers) already use the internet to route their traffic.

Technically, a call from a ported number phone is quite a bit more complicated - there are several extra transactions that need to take place before the initiating and recipient switches in the system are correctly coded & routed, and the call is completed.

And this is only the actual calling part of the system - the billing and customer support segments all had to be changed, too. I fully expect my calls will take longer to connect. I expect I will get 'service unavailable' more frequently. I probably will not have good 9-1-1 service. But it will get better.

Divorcing MDN from MIN was difficult. As expected.