How mobile number porting works

There was once a time when moving from one mobile network to another, or from Telkom to another fixed voice provider, meant your phone number was changing too.

Then, towards the end of 2006, amended regulations from Icasa introduced mobile number portability in South Africa.

Under these regulations, network operators were obligated to let their clients move their telephone numbers between providers.

The Number Portability Company (NPC) was established during 2010 in response to these new regulations.

Number porting can be a technically and procedurally challenging exercise, and the NPC helps to facilitate these transfers.

To successfully port a number from one operator to another there are a few things that need to happen, and the processes can vary significantly depending on the type of customer.

How mobile number porting works
How mobile number porting works

The process for pre-paid subscribers is the simplest, and if all goes well a user can expect same-day approval for their port – provided it was requested before 17:00.

Contract ports are more complicated, and require the subscriber to provide authentication details to the network they want to port to.

The information required for a contract port includes the existing account number, and the subscriber’s ID or business registration number linked to the account.

This information is sent by the destination network to the existing operator – or donor network – which then approves or declines the port.

Should the account be in arrears, or the authentication information incorrect, the port will be declined.

Corporate number porting also requires authentication information. However, there is generally a 16-hour turnaround time for the corporate account managers on both the destination and donor side to work through the relevant information and approve or decline the port.

Once approved, all port activations get processed during what is called Network Synchronisation Time (NST), which is governed by the NPC.

NST falls between 19:30 and 23:30, Monday to Saturday, and is like the witching hour for networks. If a port is submitted on a Sunday or public holiday, it will only happen the next business day.

During NST, the donor network deletes the number off its system and updates its call routing to the new network.

The destination network then activates the number on its billing system and also updates routing of calls.

All the other networks update their call routing too.

Finally, the user’s old SIM stops working and the new SIM is activated.

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Thank you to Vodacom for its assistance in explaining how number porting works.

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How mobile number porting works