Companies that you never heard of that make telephone calls possible – part 1

Whenever you dial a telephone number that is located in the US, somehow your telephone company needs to be able to figure out which telephone company will complete the call.  So for example suppose your cellular carrier is AT&T and you pick up your cell phone and dial a phone number.  One of the first things that AT&T must do is somehow to figure out which telephone company is responsible for that phone number.  Maybe that phone number is handled by Verizon.  If so, then somehow AT&T needs to know to send your call to Verizon which will complete the telephone call.

How does your telephone company come to learn which telephone company is responsible for that phone number?  Keep in mind that the person you are calling might “port” their cell phone number tomorrow from Verizon to T-Mobile.  If so, then if you were to dial the same telephone number the day after tomorrow, your telephone company would need to know to send your call to T-Mobile instead of sending it to Verizon.

How does this work?  And how does this relate to “number portability”?  

The answer is that each time you dial a US phone number on your phone, your phone company looks up the phone number in a database fetchingly named NPAC (which stands for Number Portability Administration Center).  The NPAC database contains a record for every US telephone number that has ever been “ported”.  Your phone company might get a record from the NPAC database or might get no record.  If there is no record for the phone number in the NPAC database, this means the number is handled by the first telephone company that ever had that telephone number.  (There is a separate database that keeps track of which telephone company was the first to have a particular telephone number.)  On the other hand, if there is a record in the NPAC database, then this means the telephone number has been ported at least once.  The record provides a pointer to the telephone company that now handles the telephone number.

To serve its purpose, the database lookup needs to be essentially instantaneous.  Most lookups in this database take less than one second.

When a customer ports a telephone number from a first telco (telephone company) to a second telco, in practical terms this means that the porting event is stored in the NPAC database.

The NPAC database has for many years been administered by a company that you probably never heard of, called Neustar.  Neustar was originally a business unit of Lockheed Martin.

Starting on August 1, 2017, the NPAC database will be administered by a different company that you never heard of, called iconectiv.  iconectiv is part of Telcordia, formerly known as Bell Communications Research (Bellcore).  Telcordia is owned by Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson.

When a customer ports a US telephone number (other than a toll-free number), the losing carrier and the gaining carrier exchange a number of messages.  When the losing carrier formally agrees to give up the telephone number, it communicates this by means of an FOC (firm order confirmation).  The FOC includes an FOC date, which is the date upon which the port will actually happen.  On the FOC date, the NPAC database gets updated to reflect that the telephone number is now being provided by the gaining carrier.

Each telephone company, whether large or small, has a “porting” department that handles both directions of porting.  The porting department handles “porting in”, meaning that the carrier is sometimes a gaining carrier.  And the porting department handles “porting out”, meaning that the carrier is sometimes a losing carrier.

For the past seventeen or so years, all of these porting steps involving the losing carrier and the gaining carrier and the NPAC database involved messages passing to and from Neustar.

Starting on August 1, 2017, the porting involving the losing carrier and the gaining carrier and the NPAC database will involve messages passing to and from iconectiv.  This will require all of the telcos to learn to use new systems to communicate with iconectiv.

It’s possible that this will all go smoothly.  Maybe most or nearly all porting departments of telcos will learn quickly how to use the communications systems of iconectiv.  But I’d guess there will be occasional hiccups in the first few weeks after August 1, 2017.

This means that if you are planning to do a number port, you might want to get it done now, well before August 1, 2017.  Alternatively, if August 1 draws near and you are thinking of initiating a number port, you might want to wait and initiate it on or after August 1.  I don’t now how well it will work if someone initiates a number port prior to August 1 and has not yet received the FOC by August 1.  Maybe those porting requests will get lost and the customer will need to try again on or after August 1.

iconectiv is no newcomer to the local number portability field.  It says it already administered the local number portability databases of some twenty other countries.  So hopefully this means they know what they are doing.

Anyway, I am pretty sure that I had never heard of Neustar or iconectiv until just now, when I started trying to learn a bit about how LNP (local number portability) works.

For completeness I will mention that LNP for US toll-free numbers is not handled by the NPAC database.  It is handled by something called RespOrg.

One thought on “Companies that you never heard of that make telephone calls possible – part 1

  1. Pingback: Companies that you never heard of that make telephone calls possible - part 2 - Ant-like Persistence

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