The availability of numbers as a resource is coming under threat

Mobile phone numbers are key assets that have been taken for granted and undervalued by the mobile industry for years.  They are consumed in their thousands every day.  They are acquired, upgraded, re-assigned and switched from one operator to the next.  They are used to lure new subscribers in with tempting deals and thrown away without a second thought.

The growth of mobile, attrition rates and pre-paid SIMs has contributed to the highest consumption of numbers the industry has ever seen.  As a result, the availability of numbers as a resource is coming under threat.

For many operators across EMEA, numbers are actually running out.  Numbers are now heavily regulated and operators must prove a real need before they are given new ones.  If numbers are lost or unaccounted for, then it’s the operators’ responsibility to find them, clean them and reassign them to a new customer.  Therefore, it can be a daunting task for operators to manage the lifecycle of each number without losing track.

The customer lifecycle

Subscribers expect their phone to work with no exceptions.  So from a number management perspective, operators accurately need to see, track and manage what a customer does with their number throughout their lifecycle in real time.

To retain and acquire new customers, operators must have the capabilities in place to cope with the influx of new number requirements.   However, today’s customer journey is posing core operational and logistical issues that are consuming valuable resources.

Simple daily operations such as ensuring the subscriber’s number is assigned to the right device at the right time can pose significant challenges.  It can be difficult to determine the status of the numbers an operator owns at any point in time.  Many operators need to manually search their records to find numbers, looking through disparate billing systems and information silos to find a number that urgently need to be reported or reassigned.  Operators are forced to waste critical resources and it is likely the situation will only get worse over time.

Looking beyond Europe

Operators in the Middle East don’t provide subsidized handsets.  These operators compete through pre-paid SIM card deals instead.  As a result, subscribers jump from one operator to the next, consuming countless pre-paid SIM cards and phone numbers.  When they run out of minutes on their pre-paid SIM card, the subscriber is likely to buy a new one with the operator offering the best deal.

Operators in Africa, on the other hand, report that the huge growth of mobile has come with subscribers owning multiple SIM cards at the same time.  Many subscribers purchase one SIM card for international calls and one for local calls.  In some cases, the subscriber will purchase a SIM card for each circle of contacts.  All these SIM cards come with their own mobile number.  This becomes a number management nightmare determining the numbers that are in use and the numbers that can be repurposed.

When we look at how many numbers are being consumed globally every day, we begin to realize that the surge in the growth of mobile creates a contradiction that is bittersweet.  On one hand, operators can easily acquire new subscribers.  On the other hand, they have the headache of managing the thousands of numbers consumed by subscribers every day.

The customer experience

Unfortunately, subscribers are often surprised when their phones don’t work. Here are some of the examples of where the customer experience can fail:

  • The pre-paid SIM card, which they’ve kept for emergencies with 20 Euros credit on it, doesn’t work and says it’s been deactivated.
  • They get home from buying their new smart phone and their SIM says it’s deactivated because the operator has already assigned it to someone else.
  • They upgrade their service using a new dynamic SIM and no one can contact them, as their number hasn’t been ported to their new SIM card.

In order to resolve these issues, the mobile number, SIM card and any other service resources must all be located within seconds.  Without effective number management, operators increase the risk of numerous points of failure along the customer journey. With the average customer acquisition cost in Europe at around 100 Euros, failure just isn’t an option.

Unlocking revenues

New revenues also can be realized quickly by reselling vanity numbers – often called “Golden Numbers”.  In many cases, a vanity number will be deactivated but left in the system until a customer asks for it.  Instead, operators can proactively allocate them as a new revenue opportunity, customer acquisition or relationship tool.  These numbers are in limited supply and it is crucial to release them quickly once they are not in use so they can be resold.  Vanity numbers that are never reclaimed are lost revenue.

Getting the basics right for growth

To be able to scale, acquire and retain customers, and launch new innovative services, operators need to ensure the basics are properly in place first.  This means whether a subscriber decides to change a SIM card, service or even their operator, they must be seamlessly supported through efficient number management. Operators need to be able to provide intelligence on the status of any one number at any one time through reporting and analytics.  Integration with third parties is crucial to be able to grow, and systems need to be automated and easily integrated into billing systems to accurately forecast customer demand.

With effective number management, operators will have strong foundations in place to provide new services to customers and create a cutting edge by providing the best possible customer experience.

Steve Summer is VP Sales EMEA, Neustar Inc.

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