Switching Cell Phone Provider

Summary: A complete guide on how to switch cell phone providers in the USA

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Switching Wireless Provider, Keeping Your Number

One thing which puts many people off switching between cell phone carriers is the belief that they will lose their existing phone number. As more and more people shift their mode of communication from their land line to their cell phone, the thought of having to tell friends, colleagues and acquaintances of a change of number is enough to keep some customers tied to plans and networks which are not necessarily best for them.

The good news is that it’s a relatively simple process to switch your allegiance whilst keeping your number. This is due to Wireless Local Number Portability (LNP), a facility that has been available across the US since May 2004. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent US government agency responsible for regulating interstate and international communications, has stipulated that all wireless carriers must allow Wireless LNP. There are, however, certain conditions which must be met.

The main proviso is alluded to by the word LOCAL - you can only keep your number if you are moving to a carrier within the same local area. For instance, you cannot port your number if you relocate from New York to San Francisco.

  • A carrier cannot stop you taking your number with you, but a new carrier is under no obligation to accept it. Obviously, most carriers are more than happy to accept a new customer, and this will not be a problem. However, there are cases where some pre-pay carriers will not accept ported numbers.
  • Only the primary account holder can fill out a port request. If you are an authorised user on a family/share plan, you must establish a separate service with your current carrier before you can initiate a port request. If you have a company phone, you may not be able to port your number if the service is in your company’s name.
  • You can port between your wireline and wireless service ‘where the requesting wireless carrier’s coverage area overlaps the geographic location in which the wireline number is provisioned’. So you can get rid of your wireline service altogether if you wish, whilst keeping your number, providing you remain in the same locality.
  • Your current company cannot refuse to port your number, even if you owe them money. You will, however, be liable for any debts, and may have to pay an early termination fee if you are under contract (although some carriers will prorate this, so it may still be financially viable if you are some way into your contract).
What numbers can I port?
  • You can port your cell phone number, wireline number or fax number. Pre-pay numbers can be ported, but must be active at the time you wish to transfer the service.
  • You cannot port 800 or pager numbers.
  • You cannot port a number to an existing account – porting only works when you are opening a new account with a carrier.
What is the process?


It really is very simple.

  1. Once you have decided which carrier, plan and cell phone you want to go for, contact your new provider. They will ask for your name, address and 10-digit customer account number as they appear on your bill. They may also ask for your account password if you have one.
  2. Your new provider will then contact your current company and start the porting process. You do not need to do anything else, just wait for your new service to start.
  3. Once your new service is activated, your existing service should be automatically cancelled. You will usually receive a bill for any outstanding debt within a month.
During the porting process you can make outgoing calls on your old cell phone, but incoming calls will only go to your new phone. Take care with 911 calls – operators will not be able to call you back or trace you when using your old phone during porting, so ensure you give them your exact location.
How long will it take?

Simple ports should now take just 1 business day at the most. In fact, the wireless industry and FCC have agreed a goal of 2.5 hours or less to port, so it may be much quicker than this. Wireline to wireless portability may take a few days.

Does it cost anything to port my number?

In theory, providers can charge a small amount to process porting. In practice, however, this does not tend to happen due to competition between carriers. However, you should always ask if any fees apply (you may be able to get them waived if you are aware they are there).

Tips for a smooth transition
  • Make sure you do your homework – research which is the best plan for you and what handset you want. Check the carrier you wish to use is licensed in your area.
  • Look at the coverage provided by your chosen company – a great plan is rendered useless if you can’t get reception when you need it.
  • Check if your current handset is compatible with the new network – most are not, and you will need to get a new phone.
  • Have your most recent wireless bill to hand to ensure the information you give to your new company is correct - all details you provide must be exactly as shown on your bill, any differences can slow things down.
  • Do not cancel your existing contract until the porting process is complete or you may lose your number. This also ensures you do not end up without a wireless service at any time.
  • Your old service should be deactivated automatically when your new service is activated, but it would be sensible to contact your previous carrier to confirm this (and to make sure you are not running up unnecessary charges).
  • Remember, you are still liable for any remaining debt and/or termination charges with your old provider - porting your number does not mean you can break your contract.
  • You cannot transfer pre-pay airtime to your new network, so make sure you use up any credit before you move.
  • Voicemail messages won’t transfer to your new phone, so make sure you listen to them before changing carriers.

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