The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) is taking heat for going slow on number portability (WNP), but according to a CWTA representative, the initiative is more complicated than some might think. "From a consumer point of view, it seems easy," says Marc Choma, the CWTA’s spokesman in Ottawa. "But you have to take into account that every telecommunications company in the country has to design, build and implement in a way that will affect every part of their operation in order to do this." On September 12, the CWTA unveiled its plan, as penned by business consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC). The outline suggested WNP could be implemented as in the September 2007 timeframe. "Do it once and do it right," reads the PWC paper. "WNP shortcuts in terms of process development and system testing should not be taken. Developing business processes is time and resource consuming." Some industry observers balked, saying it’s too long a wait for WNP."We already have number portability," said the analysts at the SeaBoard Group, a telecom advisory firm. "We can take a telephone number from Bell Canada, move it to Rogers Telecom and move it again to Vonage...The issues have been addressed and the process has been mapped." Not only does number portability already exist in the wireline world, it also does in Canada’s wireless arena. Microcell Telecommunications - now owned by Rogers Wireless Inc. - already offers number portability. When the company launched its once highly touted, and criticized, CityFido home phone replacement initiative, it offered number portability between it and the other wireless operators, and TELUS Communications Inc., the incumbent telephone company in Vancouver. In an interview with Report on Wireless last July, a Microcell representative noted there were very little barriers left to WNP implementation. "The equipment market worldwide, and in North America in particular, has moved forward to where wireless number portability is a standard thing. Six, seven, eight years ago, the CDMA carriers could point to some barriers, but it’s a standard thing (now). Wireless equipment capable of doing portability is being produced on an absolutely massive scale, particularly because of the U.S. launch," the representative said at the time. This isn’t lost on the SeaBoard Group. "Canada already has a number portability process that works between fixed-line carriers and wireless carriers," the SeaBoard Group says. Witness Microcell Telecommunications Inc. and its CLEC status - the company had to offer WNP to satisfy government regulations. "We have had number porting between wireline and wireless since November 2003, when CityFido was launched in Vancouver." The research firm says prudence shouldn’t slow the pace of implementation. "It would be unfortunate if we were to embark on a project of this magnitude with half-baked systems and poorly understood procedures. We understand the hesitancy. What we don’t get is the lack of urgency, nor do we appreciate how the present systems and procedures ... fall short." "We urge Canada’s wireless carriers to seize the initiative - announce a faster track process - become CLECs.... But do something! 2007 is too long to wait." "Canadians have been asking and waiting for number portability for years," said Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Mobile Canada’s founder. "It’s pretty incredible that it doesn’t already exist. The 2007 timeframe is far too slow and completely unacceptable." But judging from Choma’s words, 2007 is a reasonable target date. "The Ministry of Industry’s definition of number portability includes wireless to wireless, wireline to wireless and wireless to wireline," he says, indicating that the process is complicated. "This will only be the third country in the world to implement such a system. The 18-month timeline for testing and 24 month timeframe for rollout will actually be faster than any country in the world." A Telus Mobility spokesperson tells Report on Wireless that the issue is very complicated and one has to consider everything involved in trying to migrate a Telus Mobility number to a Bell Canada wireline address for example. There are many hurdles for the industry to jump before WNP comes to fruition, PwC says. Some wireless providers are poised to provide WNP, while others aren’t so far advanced; the laggards need time to catch up. Carriers must adjust the software in their networks and their operational support systems to provide WNP. And Canada has a wide range of wireless technologies (CDMA, GSM, etc.) that must be addressed. Of prime concern are regulatory barriers. "Right now wireless carriers are prohibited from accessing the number portability database," Choma says. "Certainly that has to be resolved."Soon after the CWTA unveiled its contentious plan, the CRTC said it would invite comments from the public on the matter. Telecom Public Notice 2005-14 asks people to respond on certain issues, including: How carriers should access number portability systems; How long it should take carriers to port a number; What scenarios (wireline to wireless, for instance) should be included; and How long it should take for the industry to implement WNP The commission has set September 26 as the deadline for people to indicate their intentions to submit comments to the proceeding. First-round comments are due October 10 with replies October 26. The commission has indicated that it hopes to render a decision on the contentious matter before the end of the year,"We’re pleased to see that the CRTC is acting quickly to resolve the regulatory matters," Choma says. But no matter how significant the technological and operational problems before WNP might - or might not - be, it seems the industry’s toughest challenge will be convincing critics that it’s not dragging its heels. Virgin Canada pointed out that it’s not necessarily in service providers’ interests to provide WNP; churn could rise as customers seek greener grass with competitors. "We know from one or two people we’ve been interviewing for jobs from one of the other companies recently that the plan is to leave it until the end of 2007," Branson said. "The mobile carriers are literally holding Canadians ransom." Choma suggests spending time with the PwC document to appreciate the difficulties. "We invite everyone to look at the implementation plan that has been developed. We’re committed to a complete, nationwide rollout that’s fair to all Canadians in September 2007."