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, having conducted in-depth 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 process2.
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'3 - the code necessary to transfer their mobile telephone number. Instead, customers could ask to receive their PAC by text message, or online4.
Ofcom believes that either option would deliver a faster, simpler switch for mobile customers. A consumer's switching 'journey', under both proposals, is shown below5:
Ofcom's preferred option - mobile switching led by the 'gaining provider'
Alternative option - automated PAC request
Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "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."
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.
Today's proposals would ensure a customer's old provider does not deactivate a customer's SIM card6 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 period7 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 requested8.
Ofcom is seeking views on its mobile switching proposals by 1 June 2016. It will then consider all available evidence before publishing its final decision in autumn 2016.
Ofcom is also progressing work on consumers' experience of switching bundled services - landline, broadband and pay TV - between providers using the Openreach, Virgin Media cable or Sky satellite networks. Ofcom expects to publish next steps, including any proposals for change as necessary, in the summer.
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. This includes respondents who received a temporary number from their new provider during the switching process.
2. Consumers currently face different processes for switching mobile provider, depending on whether they wish to keep their existing mobile phone number. To keep their number, the customer must contact their current provider by phone for a 'porting authorisation code', or PAC, and take this to the provider they plan to join. If the customer does not intend to keep their number then, if they are on a monthly contract, they must cancel their service with their existing provider and organise a new service with the new provider themselves - known as 'cease and re-provide.'
3. 'PAC' stands for 'porting authorisation code'.
4. Via their online account.
5. Neither proposal would prevent consumers from contacting their existing provider to terminate their contract, or discuss a switch or better offer, if they wish to.
6. The SIM, or subscriber identification module, is a microchip card which securely stores relevant host mobile network connection details and other data including its unique serial number.
7. Some providers require a notice period of up to 30 days when a customer cancels a service.
8. Some providers currently only start the notice period from when a PAC is actually used.
9. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.