October 22, 2020

Telephone changes on the horizon

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Victor Corcoran, CEO of Digicel

Frans Vandendries, LIME vice president

Long awaited, long delayed and a victim of endless dispute, the freedom to change telephone services while keeping your number arrived yesterday — except for a small problem: It didn’t.

No one is sure if the equipment works — and it will take until 20 February to sort it out. And so it will not be until a Monday morning nearly three weeks from now that telephone customers in the Cayman Islands will be able to vote — with their feet — on the company they like best.

“We‘re absolutely ready to go. We want this because it’s all about choice for the customer,” said LIME Corporate Communications Manager Julie Hutton.

Called number portability, the service will enable customers to switch providers for mobile telephones, landlines, text messages, data, anything, while retaining their usual number.

The system has been credited globally with sparking competition among telephone companies vying for market share. The scheme generally lowers prices, spurs innovation and improves customer service. Business and individuals find it easier and cheaper to leave an inadequate provider because they do not have to change letterheads, telephone listings, calling cards, information packs or advertising.

The plan, involving heavy investment in staff training, fresh equipment and a complex routing system to sort through and direct calls, was supposed to start on 31 January. However, a last-minute fight erupted just before Christmas about the technology used for
text messaging.

As LIME sought to retain the standard messaging system, Digicel sought another, saying portability was unlikely to work under the rival plan. When government’s watchdog, the Information and Communications Technology Authority (ICTA), decided in favour of LIME, Digicel CEO Victor Corcoran said he needed “a timeline of up to three months to implement” the decision, and asked for a delay.

The ICTA refused the appeal, but, finally, just last Friday, 27 January, conceded that further testing would be required, saying “the authority has decided that it would be in the best interests of the public to defer commencement until start-of-business on Monday, 20 February 2012.,” and ordered the time be used “to ensure that your response to porting requests will be effective and efficient”.

“My understanding is that the development has been delayed by several weeks,” Mr Corcoran said on Monday.

“The ICTA believed the delay was warranted for testing.”

Dave Archbold, ICTA managing director, was tight-lipped, saying only “there are 10,000 things that need to be done. It’s a very complex job”, suggesting that the system needed to find, for example, if a dialed number belonged to LIME or Digicel, then had to route it through the system to the recipient.

Additionally, he said, while traditional routing systems encompassed billing, porting technology separated the two functions. “It’s a matter of what is acceptable or not to start,” Mr Archbold said. “You can port telephone lines, but not messaging? You can do domestic calls but not international? How long will it take to port a number? We are getting testing reports day-by-day,” he said.

Frans Vandendries, LIME vice president and head of the LIME, Digicel, Telecayman and Weststar consortium managing the project, was unavailable, but Ms Hutton said LIME had completed its testing, waiting only for “some issues” to be resolved by others.

“Without it, though, it could be a real mess, but we are ready, and while I’d hate to say this is the last delay, we certainly are hoping so.”

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