Before we started Voxhub it wasn’t our first thought to pay a visit to Ofcom. We were Internet people and had never had any need for dealings with the Telecom regulator.
I had been reintroduced to VoIP technology by a friend, Daniel Pocock, in the early part of 2004. When I last tried it in 2002 it looked promising but had not captured my interest as something that was ready for widespread use. Daniel wanted to start a VoIP wholesale business and at the time I was still trying to clear my commitments to start work on Voxhub.
Daniel needed to apply for telephone numbers through Ofcom and although this process is reasonably straight forward at the application level he was concerned that he had to justify the application. You were given blocks of 10,000 numbers for each area code and the 0207 area for example was running low. Daniel really wanted this area code as it represented a large target audience for his customers.
At that time, I can confess to knowing very little about how the UK Telecom market operated at a technical, process or business level. I had been one of the few that had worked already for 10 years in the Internet industry which was pretty rare at the time. I knew domain names and how they operated, so I assumed that the central process of allocating and managing numbers would be very similar.
Daniel invited me along to his Ofcom meeting as an example of a potential wholesale customer for the numbers.
The meeting seemed to be going well. However, as the meeting went on it became apparent that we were being pushed away from our original goal of applying for new numbers. One of the Ofcom team was a porting specialist and he was adamant that we needed to focus on porting since most people wanting services already had telephone numbers. He also gave us the impression that porting was something that was very straightforward to do.
Fantastic, I had learnt some useful facts about telephone numbers from the experts and helped Daniel have his application granted. A perfect day.
STOP, present day reader. All is not as it seems. This appears to be story of hopeful people, getting advice and heading off in to the future with everything they need to provide new and innovative services to the market.
Roll forward six months to just before we launched Voxhub. Daniel had his number allocation, they were however not live on the UK telephone network though due to the time it takes to get new number ranges up and running. Porting seemed like a distant dream too with no movement from any other communications provider Daniel had contacted. We had some 0845 numbers but these were only good for testing.
Roll forward another six months. The 0207 numbers were live for Daniel. However, we needed a full UK coverage of just over 600 area codes and porting to be able to continue.
We had hit our first major stumbling block. We needed numbers and the ability to port numbers that had been explained to us as a simple thing to do by Ofcom. Our loyalties to Daniel were being stretched as he couldn’t supply what we needed. So we started to look elsewhere.
What we discovered was that other companies were also finding it difficult. One in particular, Magrathea, had got further with porting. They had about 20 area codes due to be ready for porting any day but only for BT numbers. Although, this turned out to still be another 3 months.
So with porting being such an important process and it being so simple. Why is it that Magrathea took another 3 years to get porting working for all area codes with just BT?
Daniel was forced to give up his wholesale dreams and is now a leading contributor to open source telephony and Debian Linux. We ended up buying his wholesale business so we could continue to operate his telephone numbers.
Roll forward to 2015. Ofcom are still the regulator for our industry and have played a largely observer role in number porting. It is my opinion that number porting in the UK has actually gone backwards over the last ten years. During 2014 Voxhub had significant problems porting with BT IPExchange which seems to have been set up as a service with no thought to number porting.
I will come back to porting in a future blog post with some ideas that I think could improve the processes for both consumers and providers.