Switching mobile provider is about to get quicker and easier

23rd March 2016


The UK’s 47 million mobile customers would be able to change provider more quickly and easily, under proposals announced today.

Ofcom plans to overhaul mobile switching, following research into the difficulties customers face when changing provider.

Around 2.5 million people who changed mobile provider in the last 18 months said they experienced at least one major problem during the process (38%).

This included difficulties contacting their current provider (11%), cancelling their service (10%), or keeping their phone number (10%), while one in five mobile switchers (20%) temporarily lost service1.

Approximately 5.9 million mobile users have never switched, nor considered switching to a new provider in the last year, because of concerns about the current process.

Switching options

Ofcom is today outlining two alternative options to make mobile switching quicker and simpler to address consumer harm, and support competition in the market.

Ofcom’s preferred option is a simple ‘gaining provider-led’ process for switching.

This would place responsibility for the switch, including the transfer of a customer’s mobile phone number, entirely in the hands of their new provider. The customer need only deal with the company they are switching to.

Ofcom is also seeking views on an alternative option to simplify the current process, making it quicker and easier for customers to take their mobile number with them when switching.

Under this proposal, customers would no longer have to speak to their existing provider to request their ‘PAC’ – the code necessary to transfer their mobile telephone number.

Instead, customers could ask to receive their PAC by text message, or online.

Sharon White, Ofcom chief executive, says: “It is unacceptable for people to be missing out on better mobile deals because they fear the hassle of switching, or are put off having had a poor experience in the past.

“We want mobile customers to benefit from speedier, simpler switching, making it easier for them to vote with their feet and take advantage of choice in the market.”

Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com, says: “Ofcom has put two options on the table for overhauling the mobile switching process, but there’s really only one solution – a gaining provider led process.

“Quite rightly, Ofcom has stated that this is their preference.

“The major problem with a market where the operator you’re trying to leave handles your switch, is they have no incentive to make it easy.

“A gaining provider led model should spell the end of the best deals being kept under the table, only appearing when you threaten to leave – not unlike a Marrakesh souk. All customers should be able to see those offers, rather than being reserved for those who haggle.

“But the process to unlock handsets needs to be simplified too, as this goes hand in hand with easier and faster switching.

“Ideally, all smartphones would be sold unlocked to support new networks.

“Ofcom’s alternative solution would enable mobile customers to automatically request their PAC by text message.

“But this opens up a risk people would remain vulnerable to the networks they are trying to leave, who could seize the opportunity to try and make customers stay as soon as that text is received.

“Given that broadband providers using Openreach adopted a gaining provider led model in June 2015, it’s about time mobile fell in line.”

Additional plans

In addition to reforming mobile switching processes, Ofcom is proposing new measures to help prevent customers from temporarily losing service while moving from one provider to another.

The proposals would prevent a customer’s old provider from deactivating a customer’s SIM card until their new provider has activated their new one.

Ofcom also intends to introduce new measures to help customers manage notice periods and avoid ‘double paying’. This can occur when customers have to serve out a notice period to their losing provider – meaning the old and new contracts overlap, and they end up paying for both services simultaneously.

Under Ofcom’s ‘gaining provider led’ option, new providers would be required to inform the customer about their notice period and offer them the chance to defer their switch by up to 30 days, to help them avoid double paying.

Under its ‘automated PAC’ option, providers would be required to start the clock ticking on any notice period from the date that the PAC is requested.

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