‘Text-to-switch’ plans for mobile customers

19 Mai 2017

  • Automated switching so people don’t have to speak to their current provider
  • Ban on charges after switch date would save customers around £10m per year

Ofcom is today proposing a package of reforms to make it quicker and easier to switch from one mobile phone provider to another.

Under the plans, people and businesses would simply send a free text message to the provider they wish to leave.

Customers would then receive a text back, which includes a unique code to pass on to their new provider who will arrange the switch within one working day.1

Customers would be able to follow this process whether they are taking their mobile number with them or not. They would also be able to request their unique switching code via their online account, should they prefer.

Ofcom’s proposals mean that mobile customers would no longer have to speak to the provider they wish to leave – one of the major causes of difficulties for mobile switchers, according to Ofcom research.

Under the proposed rules, mobile providers would also be banned from charging for notice periods running after the switch date. This means customers would no longer have to pay for their old and new service at the same time after they have switched – saving UK mobile phone customers around £10m each year.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “We want people and businesses to benefit from simpler, speedier mobile switching, making it easier for them to vote with their feet and take advantage of choice in the market.

"Our ‘text-to-switch’ plans would give greater control to mobile customers about when and how they switch, and prevent losing providers from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”

Mobile switching currently

People currently face different processes for switching mobile provider, depending on whether they wish to keep their existing mobile phone number.2

Around 2.5 million people who changed mobile provider said they experienced at least one major problem when switching (38%).

These included difficulties contacting their current provider (11%), cancelling their service (10%), or keeping their phone number (10%).

How the new process would work

To request their unique switching code, people would text one of two memorable short codes, depending on whether they wanted to keep their mobile number.3 All mobile providers would be required to use the same short codes.

The losing provider would immediately respond by text with either the relevant number transfer code (known as a porting authorisation code or ‘PAC’), or with a cancellation code for those who aren’t intending to keep the same mobile number.

This text reply must also include important information relating to any early termination charges, outstanding handset costs, or pay-as-you-go credit balances.4

A unique switching code would be valid for 30 days. A customer would be able to pass the code on to their new provider at the point they place an order for their new service, without the need for a further conversation.

Providers would also be required to publish and promote clear guidance to help customers follow the new process and make informed switching decisions.

Good value, effective switching

Previous analysis led Ofcom to consider a ‘one-stop’ switching process where a customer would need only deal with the company they were switching to. Under this option, the responsibility for the switch, including the transfer of a customer's mobile phone number, would be placed entirely in the hands of their new provider.

We recently conducted further detailed research to seek consumers’ views about the merits and likely take-up of a one-stop process, compared with the ‘text-to-switch’ approach. We have also updated our estimates of the costs of implementing each option.

We found that people who had switched previously, and kept their mobile number, said they would be more likely to request a PAC by text in future (78%) than to use a one-stop process (66%).5

Text-to-switch would also be cheaper to implement, costing industry an estimated £44 million over ten years, compared with £87 million for a one-stop process – which would minimise any potential impact on customer bills.

Ofcom is therefore proposing to implement text-to-switch as the most effective, yet proportionate, way to address consumers’ mobile switching problems.

Next steps

A consultation on today’s proposals is open until 30 June 2017 at 5pm, and we expect to publish our final decision in autumn this year.

Ofcom is also planning a programme of work to identify and find ways to tackle non-process related barriers to switching. This is to ensure that consumers, particularly those who lack confidence when shopping around for the best deals, are better empowered to take full advantage of the choice available.

Notes to editors

  1. In the consultation document, we call this process ‘Auto Switch’.
  2. Under the current process, where the customer wishes to transfer their number to their new provider, they must contact their current provider by phone for a 'porting authorisation code', or PAC, and give 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. Short Codes are significantly shorter, and easier to remember than telephone numbers. They are used to address messages in MMS and SMS systems.
  4. Losing providers would also be required to allow customers to request switching information independent from the switching process by text, online account and phone call, and then provide it immediately using the means by which it was requested. The losing provider must use a different text short code to provide this facility and this must be the same across industry.
  5. We found that those people who had switched via the ‘cease and re-provide’ process, where they change their mobile number, said they would be more likely to request a PAC by text in the future (73%) than use a one-stop process (58%).