December 10, 2003
The transition to portable cell phone numbers is working about as well as ... well, your average cell phone. Industrywide, about half of all number transfers have gone awry. AT&T Wireless leads the pack with a 60 percent error rate -- and is also reported to be losing the most customers.

Regulations say numbers are supposed to be transferred in a few hours but many consumers have had to wait days for the switchover to occur.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that more than half of the complaints it's received about number-switching have involved AT&T Wireless and it has launched two separate investigations of the problems.

At&T puts the blame on NeuStar, a company that it uses to verify orders for customers switching carriers. AT&T admits it faced "great problems" but claims its record is not much worse than the industry average.

For its part, NeuStar says no single company is to blame for the confusion.

Number portability began Nov. 24 and during the first two weeks, industry analysts say about half a million customers switched carriers, taking their old numbers with them. Although no one really knows which companies have been winners and losers, several analysts said AT&T Wireless was losing customers at a fast pace because of network problems and poor customer service.

AT&T says it is now managing to get most numbers transferred within three to five days.

While cell phone customers have been switching carriers in large numbers, there's little sign that there's similar enthusiasm for dropping landline numbers in favor of wireless. The FCC has also required that local phone companies let customers take their home numbers with them if they want to go all-wireless.

"It's incredibly minimal," said Andrea Ayers of Convergys Corp., a Cincinnati firm that handles portability calls for some wireless carriers. An SBC spokesman called it "minimal."