One of telecom’s biggest IT projects ‘went great’—at least so far

Described as one of the biggest IT projects ever undertaken by the U.S. telecom industry, the nation’s commercial number portability services yesterday began moving from previous vendor Neustar to new vendor iconectiv. And “it went great,” said Kathy Timko, head of local number portability administration at iconectiv, in an interview this morning.

“It’s a highly orchestrated endeavor,” Timko explained.

The transition from Neustar to iconectiv involves a massive set of data: 500 million phone numbers and over 1 million transactions per day across 1,500 service providers. The service, launched in 1997, was designed to allow wireless and wireline phone customers to keep their phone number if they move from one carrier to another, but it also handles a wide range of associated services for both call and text routing as well as carriers’ system and network management. The government’s contract for administering the database handling number portability came up for review in 2010 and was awarded to iconectiv (formerly Telcordia, now 80% owned by Ericsson) in 2014. A final agreement was signed in August 2016.

Clearly, number portability involves a large range of stakeholders—from network operators to systems integrators to government officials—but it’s also worth a lot of money: Neustar was paid around $500 million per year to manage the database for the service, and iconectiv expects to receive around $1 billion over the duration of the seven-year contract.

Thus, a successful beginning to the transition is likely to elicit sighs of relief from a number of telecom players, particularly given that there were concerns that the handover from Neustar to iconectiv wasn’t tested thoroughly and didn’t include a provision that would switch the service back to Neustar if there were problems. “If the transfer runs into problems, there could be substantial consumer disruption, in that new ports would not be completed and there might be some difficulty terminating calls/texts,” wrote industry analyst Mark Lowenstein. “This would undoubtedly result in a raft of calls to customer care and could result in a slowdown in new customer activations.”

Further, the transition isn’t finished. Number portability services are divided into seven regions across the country, and yesterday just one region—the Southeast—moved from Neustar to iconectiv. The remaining six regions will switch over in the coming weeks.

Iconectiv’s Timko said that, so far, everything is running smoothly.