Wireless Number Portability: How to Keep Your Number

As you may know, the FCC requires providers to provide the “ability to change service providers within the same local area and still keep the same phone number.” If you want to cancel your cell phone service, you can port your number to your new service, regardless of things like “early termination fees.”

How to Keep Your Number:

1) Contact your new carrier. Tell them that you will be switching to their service and you’d like to keep your number.
2) The new carrier will begin the process. They will confirm your identity. You may need to provide them with various documentation proving you are who you say you are.
3) The new carrier will request your number from the old carrier. Once a valid porting request has been made, the old carrier cannot refuse to port a number.

More inside.

Here are some things to know:

• “Once a consumer has requested service from a new carrier, the old carrier may not delay or refuse to port a number even if that individual owes money for an outstanding balance or termination fee.” This means that if you request service from a new carrier, your old carrier can not prevent or delay your number from being ported.

• Carrier may charge a fee for number porting, but your new carrier is not prevented from paying this fee for you. You should ask your new carrier about it.

• If you take your number to a new service, you are still responsible for whatever fees/balance you owe to your former carrier.

• Just because you take you number to a new carrier, don’t expect your phone to work, too. The main exception to this is Cingular (AT&T) and T-Mobile. Often phones can be “unlocked” and switched between these two carriers. Ask your carrier for the “unlock” code.

Report any violations of WLNP to the FCC. —MEGHANN MARCO



Edit Your Comment

  1. saikofish says:

    Awesome! I was just wondering about this.

    What if you delay? is there an “expiration date” on your number? In other words, say you cancel your service, go phoneless for a couple of months, and then sign up for another service. Can you still get your old number or would it be recycled by then? Is there general rule for how long an old number can be dormant before it’s recycled?

  2. saikofish: I believe you only have thirty days.

  3. lonelymaytagguy says:

    When you do this, it does terminate your old contract. Don’t do like I did and move your number to a new carrier a couple weeks before your old contract expires thinking I could just pay off the remaining time on the old contract.

    When I got the ETF bill from Verizon I understood how I had screwed up and talked very nicely to them — I never expected it, but they removed the ETF. (almost made me want to go back to them…)

    This time when I switched to T-Mobile I took a new number then a week later the day after the Cingular contract expired, I ported the number. I was really surprised when my final bill from Cingular was zero.

    sailkofish: I believe the old number still has to be active.

  4. What happens if you have a family plan? Do you treat all the numbers individually or only as a group?

  5. krunk4ever says:

    My question is what is the easiest way to keep the same number and the same carrier, but get a new contract.

    Every year, my family renews the contract by having another member sign up for T-Mobile. As you may know, new customers tend to get the best deals with the least amount of hassle. T-Mobile generally has the best deals for us (based on family plan and usage) and the reception in our area is pretty decent, so we tend to stick with them.

    However, that means every year I have to give out my new cell number to all my contacts and that generally sucks. Sometimes friends would email me asking if I had changed my cell number because I had forgotten to notify them.

    I’ve heard of services where you can transfer the number to them and then transfer it back. I was wondering if anyone has some advice or suggestion on what is the easiest/cheapest way to get this done.

    Also, when signing up for a new account, do I need to have that number available to transfer back by then or can I change numbers later on?

    Thanks in advance!

  6. fleef says:

    work for a telecom company. If you want to really keep your old number, DON’T cancel your account with your current serv.provider. Just have the “new” company take care of it or else you will lose your # forever. If yoru current account is in arrears or it is in questionable status and in danger of non pay disconnect, that will also keep your current # from being ported

  7. guroth says:

    A bit less than a year ago I switched from Cingular to Nextel for work. I signed up for Nextel and they gave me a new number. Later when I got home I called up Nextel, told them I wanted my number changed from my previous Cingular account, gave them some account information to verify I was the account holder and they said ok you’ll get a text message in up to 8 hours when your number has successfully changed over.. 2 hours later I got a text message and I had my number again. They even took care of canceling the Cingular account for me.

  8. Tim Matheson says:

    As a former employee of U.S. Cellular I can tell you a little something about WNPP (Wireless Number Pooling Portability). First off porting a number to a new carrier is as simple as verifying your identity, filling out a form, and cancelling your contract you can contact your carrier and they can guide you through the process step by step but for the most part it’s pretty straight forward. You can not port a number to a different area code and keep your number (e.g. 262-555-1212 could not be ported to 715-555-1212) so if you move because your carrier doesn’t cover your newly found home and decide to keep your number it is likely to be long distance for incoming local callers. This should be especially considered by anyone using their cell phone for business.

    Second you are all being charged for WNPP on your bill. Sprint told me that this was to reimburse them for the cost of porting a number. However they still charge everyone even loyal customers who don’t wish to port their number to another carrier. Contact your carrier and ask if they are charging you for WNPP and see what they say. I can’t speak for all providers but I can say that Sprint/Nextel, U.S. Cellular, Alltel, and T-Mobile do. It is usually anywhere from a few cents to $1.50. Calculate that times 12 months in a year times 53.7 million subscribers in Sprint/Nextel’s case and you have a nice lump of cash. This is nothing new and I won’t go into too much detail here but looks like I will be posting about it on my blog. Read more about WNPP below.


  9. Chairman-Meow says:

    I ported my number off Verzion and onto Vonage last year. Both carriers claimed that everything would be great-fine-wonderful.

    That is until I cancelled my Verzion contract. It appears that Verizon “lost” my number while porting it to Vonage. It appears that Verizon was “accidently” losing lots of numbers that were being ported off their network.

    A carrier has to port your number if you ask them to do it. The loophole of course is that there is no garuntee that the porter has to confirm that you number has been sucessfully ported to the new carrier.

    I believe there is an ongoing lawsuit right now with Verizon & Vonage over this issue.

  10. MikeWas says:

    Verizon “lost” the number? What the hell does that mean? They get the request and they either flip the switch or they don’t.

    I think my law firm of Dewey Cheatham & Howe needs to add a cell phone carrier anti-fraud division.

  11. CarolineK says:

    I had some problems with porting my number when I tried to switch carriers. I have a Nebraska number and didn’t want to lose it even though I now live in Washington, DC. I have had it for about 10 years and I am kind of attached. Anyway, I wanted to move to TMobile. I buy the phone online. They send me the phone with instructions to call them and they will port the number for me. I call them and after about 45 minutes, realize they can’t port the number. Something about how TMobile isn’t offered in Nebraska, so they do not have access to the number on their network. After having this explained to me by no less then four different people, I gave up and canceled my new account within the 30 day limit.

  12. yeabirfday says:

    here’s my (good) experience. Sorry for the length. I have a phone number I wanted to keep, but I live in a different state now. I had sprint, and my contract was up so I went to a verizon store. I feel obligated to mention that sprint has been good to me for nearly 9 years, but I wanted a treo 700p, and the only way to make it affordable was to get a new contract –thus with a different carrier. Despite solving the maybe 2 billing problems I ever had very painlessly, they couldn’t offer me enough of a rebate on buying the new phone, even with a new contract (which they tried to get me to sign repeatedly because I went basically an entire year with no contract… also including other offers like nights starting at 7pm, 10% off my monthly bill ($3.50), etc). But I have other reasons making the switch worth it, like my entire family on Verizon, so all those calls become included. Anyway, the verizon store rep said he couldn’t port the number since it wasn’t local.

    I tried wirefly/myrateplan.com, wondering if I could work it that way (assuming it had something to do with billing codes). And in fact, the CSR said I could do it, and put my billing address as being in my old place (I gave my parents’ address), but shipping as my current. I was supposed to call their support line the next day and fix my billing address so the purchase would work (I assumed after Verizon had ok’d the contract and number port). I then corrected my billing address/waited/got emails saying I had to contact myrateplan/spent a lot of time on hold, eventually ended up cancelling the order since they couldn’t get it to work. btw, if you use them use the online chat help whenever possible. The wait is much shorter (~1 min), you risk less confusion if you’re not great at parsing Indian accents, and more importantly there’s less risk of getting phone rage. One time I was on hold for 15 minutes and then was hung up on after an “I’m-too-busy,-sorry” recorded message.

    I then called up 1-800-2JOIN IN, verizon’s (I guess) national number. I was speaking to a CSR within 4 minutes, and he said the number portage was no problem, explaining that the store couldn’t do it because one service can’t cancel another’s contract if they’re not in the same market, which I took to mean geographical market. Since I had called the national 1800 number, though, this was apparently no problem. This was all Wednesday night. He said to expect the phone Monday or latest Tuesday, but I got it yesterday afternoon(!). Called Verizon Activation, updated the phone over the air, and less than half an hour later (unclear bc I was installing and fiddling etc) my sprint stopped working. I have now retired that 3-year old warhorse of a treo 600, but still have my old phone number so I don’t have to go contacting everyone and rememorizing my new number.

    In short: don’t cancel your service yourself, and purchase a new phone/contract through the national 1-800 number. Your new provider will cancel your other service for you. Assumptions: your contract is up and you are going month-to-month, you don’t mind signing for a new 1 or 2-year contract.

  13. yeabirfday says:

    ooh, yeah, after Caroline’s post, I should add another assumption: both carriers are in both locations, old and new. That probably helped a lot.

  14. Tim Matheson says:

    Caroline K, I am from Grand Island, NE born and raised “Go Huskers!”. I now live in Wisconsin but my boss actually went to DC for business and came back to NE one day with a T-Mobile phone. The phone worked fine but he had a Washington DC number. He was unable to change to a local number but the phone still worked without roaming.

    My guess is that they partner with Verizon as U.S. Cellular does. I would not give up on your battle if you really must be a “Big Pink T’ customer. When I worked for U.S. Cellular a person from Chicago came into my store and I setup a phone for him and tried to port his Chicago number into our system. One month later U.S. Cellular bitched me out for selling to someone outside our market because of the number issue (e.g. he couldn’t obtain a local number) even though when I called our support line they informed me to give him a local number (which was all the online system would allow me to give him) and they would change it to his “existing” Chicago number when he got home. He came back very upset when he was told it was not possible and that they couldn’t help him “U.S. Cellular” but instead he would have to travel back to Wisconsin to speak with me about the issue. I solved the problem by cancelling his service and he just went back to Chicago and signed a new agreement there. What a headache but he complained enough and got his number ported so keep trying.

  15. slapshot24 says:

    Verizon tries VERY hard to keep the number, including sending a number of letters suggesting that there was an accidental or fraudulent change. Keep an eye out.

  16. Baz L says:

    Anyone has an answer to krunk4ever’s question. I’m in the same boat. I started off with T-Mobile (again they have the best family plan). I didn’t renew the contract with them because going through the carrier itself sucks in terms of new phones. I used a 3rd party service (LetsTalk.com, then A1Wireless.com) the second time. They have much better deals for phones because they offer a lot of mail in rebates.

    Anyways, they have a check box asking if you would like to keep your number. I checked the box, but when I received the phones they came with new numbers. After calling Customer Service, I was told that they can’t keep my number because activating the new contract terminated my old contract.

    Can anyone help me here? Do I need to contact them before I start a new contract or were they just lying?

    help would be appreciated.


  17. Chairman-Meow says:

    Oh golly gosh, USA Today has a story on this very subject; Porting problems (Jan 15th)

  18. luciddevices says:

    I called Verizon and discussed the early termination of my contract. The csr I spoke to did not argue with me. she actually informed me that they had a meeting discussing the fee changes and contract terminations. She did tell me though that since I would be terminating my contract early, I would not be able to port my number. I just agreed and said I didn’t care. From what I understand, as long as you have your new carrier do everything for you… they have no say-so. Hope I’m right.

  19. Fitch says:

    I decided that I did not want to keep my number once I left T-Mobile, since I was in a new state and didn’t want to confuse local contacts with an out-of-state cell phone number. (Yes, some people really were confused.) When I got my new plan with new numbers (through Cingular, but that shouldn’t make a difference), I ported my old numbers from my familytalk plan to “T-Mobile To Go” which gives you 30 days of pre-paid talk time. I simply didn’t add any minutes to the plan and just used the free courtesy minutes to set up my voice mail indicating my number had changed and to not leave a message.

    So, if you have to give up your T-Mobile number, consider switching that number for free to To Go service for a “the number has changed” voicemail message— Oh, and that voicemail can be checked from another phone for free, too!

  20. Jobeleca says:

    A little info Tim Matheson didn’t include in his post. If you have already ported your number to another carrier, make sure you don’t make the mistake of canceling service before porting to another carrier, because once an already ported number is canceled it reverts to ownership by the original carrier and cannot be retrieved.

    Also, here at AT&T the cancellation dept will tell you that you have 59 days to reactivate your service and get your number back, this does not apply to numbers that have been ported in. Not all reps are currently aware of this as the training on that important tidbit (and the indicator in the billing system) only started this past winter.

  21. Nick says:

    It is always a good idea to solve billing issues before you begin the porting process. Regardless of these FCC regulations, chances are good that your old carrier will still reject the port if you owe them money.

    I work at a telecommunications company and I have seen this before. We (the new carrier) request the port and receive an error saying “LNP Rejected due to billing issues with the losing carrier”. Although they are not allowed to do this under law, some wireline companies do indeed reject ports for this reason. By the time this mess could be straightened out in court, the losing carrier will have already hard disconnected your telephone number (meaning the number is lost and that it cannot port). Just pay your bill before you port ;-)

  22. pc-vip says:

    Folks, a couple of thing to keep in mind:

    1) SunRocket was not officially a phone company at all. Technically, this means they are not subject to LNP rules (in fact, check your customer agreement w/ them…it says clearly that they *may* allow you to take your number with you, but are not obligated to do so).

    Think of this as it applies to eFax or all the free phone # services. The entities that provide those services AREN’T PHONE COMPANIES. As LNP is telecom-specific, “Your” #s belong to them, not to you.

    2) LNP is tough to enforce if the company giving up the number isn’t a phone company. Again, in SunRocket’s case, *if* they just turn off the servers there’s no way to reclaim the #s through the LNP system even if SR’s intent had been to allow you to do so. Ever notice the “Local Number Portability” charge on your phone bill (it finally went away a couple of years ago)? There’s a system “out there” that controls this.

    The good news on THAT one is that if SR or someone like them acts in a dishonorable way, then eventually *your* # will find its way back into the hands of the telco that they bought the block of numbers they use from. Of course, good luck getting it at that point.

    Jeff Yablon
    President and CEO

  23. dsbonney says:

    Nextel is saying that you can’t take their number to another provider. How can they do this? Don’t they have to allow you to take your number b/c of this new law?

  24. Xechorizo says:

    Also to throw in my experience with this:

    I signed up sometime in 06, and happened to “extend” my contract in April 07 (stupid) and as such this “extention” as the associate put it was indeed a new agreement to the terms, and I hadn’t noticed the 5c increase till now when I wished to cancel. I tried to pull that maybe my terms and pricing agreements were “extended” and I hadn’t received notice of any changes, but signing anything in April 07 miffed my chances on this.

    On a side note they were cool about losing my rebate I sent in, so they credited me $50 for my phone and my term fee was only $140 anyhow. Not sure if it’s now pro-rated, but it definitely wasn’t $175.