The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has claimed some progress has been made in the long-standing local loop unbundling (LLU) process but alternative operators remain to be convinced.
The main breakthrough centres on allowing customers who switch from Eircom to another telecoms firm to retain their phone number without much service disruption.
In a status update released yesterday, the telecoms regulator said that during the month of July, the industry has “continued to make progress across a range of activities associated with the development of LLU”. Principally, the issue of number portability and LLU, saddled with the awkward acronym of GLUMP, was launched in a trial phase last week on 8 August and orders have now been placed for this.
Comreg noted that although “significant progress” has been made in some areas, for others it has been less than anticipated due to the need to prioritise specific work items. A total of six industry meetings were held over the period in addition to several meetings between the regulator and individual operators. “As well as developing the mass market solution, industry has committed to further developing the phase 1 product in light of operational experience,” ComReg said in its update.
However, it emerged that number portability will be achieved by a manual process, which a spokesperson for one operator described as “sending spreadsheets between us and Eircom”. The telecoms lobby group IrelandOffline, while welcoming the announcement, claimed that the manual system means that at most a few hundred orders could be processed per week.
The group contrasted that with the situation in the UK where an automated system allows 30,000 LLU customers per week to change broadband providers. “Industry in Ireland has been requesting an automated ordering system for years but to no avail,” the group said.
A spokesperson for Magnet called number portability “a step in the right direction” but noted that the announcement does not go far enough and that an automated process demanded by industry is not yet in place.
“The manual process will not be able to cater for the number of broadband subscribers that are currently signing up every month. Industry figures show that takeup has increased by 114pc over the last year and current projections indicate that trend will continue. So while this is a positive step in the right direction, it does not go far enough, but more importantly it does not match the pace at which our industry is growing,” the spokesperson said.
According to Magnet, number portability is the current major issue that needs to be resolved, but it said there are others that require more resources and impetus; notably the ability for consumers to migrate between operators and not to have to revert to being an Eircom customer every time they want to change service provider.
The status document made clear that progress has been slower for the wider process of LLU, which allows alternative telecoms providers to place their own equipment in telephone exchanges belonging to Eircom. By doing so, they can offer a suite of voice and internet services to customers without having to rely on wholesale services that Eircom makes available to them. ComReg attributed the delays to the focus on launching number portability in time for the 8 August deadline.
By Gordon Smith