We recently explained what the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) is from a communications service provider’s viewpoint and some of the reasons it is such an important resource.

For those that aren’t veterans of the telecom industry, this can sound a bit like Greek. We are often asked to explain, in layman’s terms, how the NPAC actually impacts our daily lives and what it means for the average person?

Competition through choice

The NPAC connects the networks of over 2,000 North American Carriers, allowing them to route phone calls seamlessly and transfer telephone numbers at a subscriber’s request. This allows individuals and businesses to choose their service providers freely. We no longer have to worry about changing our phone numbers if we switch providers. The NPAC makes this critical component of competition in the communications market possible.

Ten years ago, there were fewer than 500 unique telecom operators in the United States. Today there are over 2000, providing more choices than ever to the market. If you decide that another operator better meets your needs, you can switch and take your phone number with you.

Promotes Innovation

Customer “stickiness” is a major concern for operators in North America. Losing a customer to a competitor is obviously a top concern for any business. Ensuring your customer base sticks with you takes work and constant attention. That is a good thing for consumers!

The NPAC makes it easier for consumers to shop around and pick the provider that best meets their needs. Operators are constantly trying to out-do one another with new services, pricing, and better customer service to win our business. All this competition leads to a better customer experience, lower prices, and new innovations that we, as subscribers, get to enjoy.

Preserves Telephone Numbering Resources

Believe it or not—it is possible to run out of phone numbers. Telephone numbers, just like wireless spectrum and energy reserves, are a public resource that is not unlimited. We can run out of phone numbers if the industry isn’t careful about how it uses them.

To understand why, we have to review a little telecommunications history. When the modern competitive telecom network was being created, each operator working in a small geographic area known as a rate center had to be assigned a minimum of 10,000 numbers. That meant even if they didn’t have 10,000 potential subscribers within their area—they would still have 10,000 unique numbers that could be used.

For many operators, particularly smaller ones, 10,000 unique telephones was overkill. Rate centers were small enough that an operator might only need 1,000 or 2,000 numbers, which meant that there were thousands of numbers left unused. As the number of providers grew thanks to market competition, whole area codes began to run dangerously close to exhausting all their available telephone numbers, which meant that new area codes needed to be created, faster and faster—and over time the industry began to worry that eventually, our 10-digit system would run out of numbers altogether.

In 1999, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) instituted number pooling. This allowed operators to donate unneeded numbers from their 10,000-block assignments back to the industry, so other operators could acquire and reuse them. The NPAC is the mechanism by which telephone numbers are exchanged for this purpose on the network. This was a critical innovation, as the U.S. population has grown and the number of devices that need a telephone number has skyrocketed.

Recently the FCC reported that over 500 million telephone numbers have been preserved as a result of national number pooling. Through this effort the life of the 10-digit North American Numbering Plan has increased by over 30 years, which means it will be a very long time before we have a shortage of telephone numbers.

Improves Network Resiliency

In addition to moving phone numbers between operators, the NPAC also supports a function known as intra-service provider porting or moving numbers within the operator’s own network. I know that is a little techy, but very important. Intra-service provider porting enables operators to optimize traffic to phone numbers within their own networks, thereby improving interconnection efficiency.

This capability is critical during an emergency or disaster. Networks can experience outages for a variety of reasons, ranging from general maintenance problems to damages sustained as a result of extreme weather. Operators can use the portability infrastructure to move phone numbers normally supported by a damaged service center over to one that is functioning, thereby speeding up recovery and getting customers back in service.

Just imagine that a business lost their telephone connectivity due to one of the floods from earlier this year. The NPAC would enable the business to dynamically move the telephone numbers from the switch damaged by the flood waters to one that was functioning. That can help a lot of people get back to work.

Evolving with the Communications Industry:

The communications industry does not standstill. Looking back over the years, the NPAC has evolved significantly from when it first started. The service was born as a solution for wireline network architectures, but soon moved to support a burgeoning wireless industry. A few years later, voice over IP emerged, and a whole new community of operators became part of the portability ecosystem.

The telecommunications industry changes rapidly, and the NPAC’s neutral administration and unique architecture make it a critical asset for the evolving needs of its users. The NPAC will continue providing cost-effective support to the market no matter what new developments the future brings.

These five things are just the basics. If you have questions, let us know in the comments below.