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number portability A puzzle unlocking voice opportunities FOLLOW THE CUSTOMER It is hard to remember the days before number portability, and in fact, the right to take your telephone number with you as you choose a different operator has now been in existence for more than 20 years. However, for most of that time, international voice carriers have largely ignored the implications of portability, choosing instead to simply route voice calls to the operator that was originally assigned the number blocks. In effect, they have been handling the international delivery of the voice calls and leaving the final routing decision on how to find that specific customer to their in-country partner.


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So, after 20 years of ‘laissez-faire’, why should international carriers now care about number portability and why should they spend money on solving this piece of the international call delivery puzzle? Interestingly, the delivery of international messages and texts has been one of the triggers for the increased importance of tackling number portability. As international carriers aim to ride the A2P messaging wave, they have to gear themselves up to meet enterprises’ expectations. This means delivering messages rapidly, securely and every time. As messaging is now a critical element in many business processes to confirm identity, or to warn of a flight cancellation for example, the delivery of a text, securely, reliably and with minimal latency, has become the key measure of success. International carriers wanting to attract this

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lucrative business must obtain the latest data on the true “owner” of a number before forwarding that message. Connecting to the right operator in the distant country not only provides the most reliable path with minimal latency, it also provides the best commercial deal as transit or forwarding fees charged by the number range owner are no longer applicable. It also minimizes the risk of carriers being charged for undelivered messages. To achieve this, carriers must join the ranks of those that have stepped up to the challenge of solving the number portability puzzle - and extend those solutions to voice services. THE TIME IS NOW FOR VOICE So why is number portability now becoming an important tool in voice carriers’ arsenal? A number of commercial and technological drivers are raising the interest towards number portability for the delivery of voice services.


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The need for efficiency International carriers are facing a growing number of challenges. They need to address continually shrinking margins with declining traffic and, at the same time, handle an ever more complex set of services. They are therefore facing a double edged sword. On one side, they must reduce their costs, while on the other, increase the range of value add services they offer - a very tricky challenge. To make matters worse, they must to do this quickly. This also means optimizing each service to ensure they are delivered as efficiently as possible and to then enhance them to generate greater value. Number portability is becoming a key part of this journey. Number portability is now available in over 100 countries, and in many of them it has reached a tipping point, where over 50% of numbers have been ported at least once. So the original plan of routing a call to the owner of the number range is wrong as often as it is right. As a result, even though an international carrier may have a connection to the main Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), for instance, they are far from using those to their best advantage. The call will almost always succeed in practice, because of the basic design rules of networks, but that is where the positives end. The receiving operator must check in the country for portability information and then onward route it to the correct network for termination. If not routed directly to the current owner of the network in-country, in addition to the extra routing step, there is also the possibility of incremental commercial fees to pay for the extra transit cost. This will either be charged explicitly or indirectly via increased blended pricing.

Consequently, adding global number portability to their set of capabilities enables international carriers to route the call to the final network owner of the number in the country, without the need to pay for transit through another incountry operator. This approach minimizes the cost of termination via directly connected mobile operators, and at the same time, maximizes the quality and feature transparency of the service. More broadly, in-country termination rates may also differ between networks and hence a payment based on the number range is not necessarily correct for the final carrier. Approaches have been developed over the years to smooth out these variations, so that an operator buying from an international carrier can continue to pay based on traditional number ranges. However, as we know from experience, any methodology used to provide a blended price opens up that company to the risk of “cherry picking�, where a stream of incoming traffic no longer represents an average blend, but is instead weighted towards the expensive destinations. Initially, a traffic cap was created to counteract this discrepancy, although increasingly international carriers are pricing based on the network that will finally terminate the call rather than the originally assigned number codes. This removes the financial risk, but it raises serious issues for validation of invoices. If the originating operator does not know the portability status of the calls, it will not be able to validate the invoice it receives from its downstream carrier, nor will it be able to optimize its least cost routing (LCR) for the call.

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So, we have added yet more uncertainty and added more costs, in a world where efficiency is vital to survival and success!

Similar benefits come from making the necessary call by call routing decisions to support RCS features end-to-end.

In recognition of the above, some mobile groups and IPX operators are building number portability information hubs as a centralized group service to support the requirements of the Group’s voice and messaging divisions for both existing and next generation services.

Benefiting from network evolution

If we remember our goal - to reduce costs while adding value - it is becoming clear that BandAids applied to a basically broken process is no way to develop a successful long term business. Therefore solutions such as Number Portability based routing must be adopted. Supporting service transformation The technology underpinning voice networks is evolving rapidly, such that routing choices are not only highly flexible, but they are also open to artificial intelligence based approaches that optimize the routing on a call by call basis. This capability is critical when it comes to supporting end-to-end service features provided by enhanced messaging services such as RCS and enhanced voice services such as Voice over LTE (VoLTE). Depending on the design of each in-country network, features may be dropped if one network is set up to support (VoLTE), for instance, and the other one is not. So being able to make routing decisions call by call, based on the terminating network to support VoLTE features end-to-end, is key. This means that VoLTE’s high definition voice, or video features, can be supported internationally with the enhanced customer satisfaction that comes from an enriched experience.

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In addition, networks themselves are changing. The rapid migration to IP-based transport removed many of the constraints that dictated the legacy (SS7) network and interconnect design of the past. International transmission used to be expensive, so setting up the most efficient “pipe” to a country made sense. This often meant that the final delivery of the call was to be handled by one in-country operator who would subsequently route it, using incountry local Number Portability information, to the appropriate network. Now, IP interconnects can be established flexibly and economically and no longer require dedicated ports for each connection. As a result, the old rules can be discarded and connections established with little incremental cost with each of the major service providers and mobile networks in most destinations. In fact, such connections are required to properly serve those carriers as customers and so networks have become highly meshed with the major international carriers being interconnected with almost all of the major retail service providers. Implementing this overall approach can bring many benefits: • Calls are routed via the minimum number of paths to the final customer • Features such as those enabled by VoLTE and RCS can be delivered end to end providing added value to customers


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• As every carrier in a chain requires some payment for their work, accurate direct routing removes unnecessary costs from the path • The true cost of termination is paid and isn’t subject to blending, overages and other complexities • Improve quality and minimize fraud by spotting non-valid or artificial numbers • Invoice validation can be simplified SOLVING THE NUMBER PORTABILITY PUZZLE The solution to the number portability routing puzzle has actually been clear for some time. International carriers need to route each call not based on a number range that was assigned to an operator twenty years ago. Instead,

they need to route that call to the operator that currently serves the customer using that number now. The missing element for accurate routing has remained the availability of data on exactly which service provider in each distant country serves each telephone number in real-time or at least in near real-time. Although each country had the same objective - enable portability for end users - for many reasons they approached it in different ways. After all, each domestic network was subtly different because of history, vendor choices, rate of modernization and so on. Also, local regulators had to develop technical and procedural approaches that worked in their environment.

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The result - every country has a different way of maintaining the basic records of who owns each number and how to access it. Overlaid on that are privacy requirements and restrictions, especially in Europe, with the implementation of the General Data Protection Requirement (GDPR), which confirmed that telephone numbers require appropriate privacy controls. This means that in some countries the basic information on portability cannot be accessed from outside that country, for instance, or requires an operator license in that country to access it. While there have been sporadic attempts by the industry to create co-operative solutions to this problem, it is only relatively recently that work undertaken by private, and visionary companies such as XConnect, have developed global solutions that fully meet the needs, not only for messaging, but now also for voice routing. A summary of the different complexities of building an up-to-date global number portability database are outlined in the diagram on the previous page. THE XCONNECT EXPERIENCE COUNTS When it comes to number portability, an international carrier’s requirements are simple to state: an accurate, up-to-date database of the portability status of each number. The intelligent network elements must be able to receive the incoming signal for a new voice call and query an accurate database for the identity of the correct operator handling that number. With this information, the appropriate route can be established and the call sent on its way for termination via the best technical and commercial path. An example of this call flow

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using the XConnect INDEX platform is shown on the following page. It sounds simple, however the delivery of the result to that query is the culmination of many years of work in solving the commercial, logistical and technical conundrums associated with obtaining accurate portability data from each country and then maintaining the accuracy of the results through all the changes that occur every second of the day in those countries. Errors are made in transferring numbers, technical glitches occur, formats change, laws and processes evolve and through all that, the accuracy of the global record of portability status of each of the billions of telephone numbers needs to be assured. From there, the technical deployment of that data to secure servers, that meet both the privacy demands and the latency and throughput needs of the operators, must be achieved. Operators require minimal latency in this critical call setup step, as customers expect calls to ring with virtually no delay. Latency depends on the distance the signal travels, as well as the speed of response of the server itself, so geographic deployment close to carriers is key. An underlying design of the server and software that minimizes any processing time in responding to each query is similarly essential. XConnect is a world leader in both, having recognized many years ago how critical this was going to become. XConnect succeeded in deploying a cloudbased solution which covers 50 countries with Central Number Portability data managing over 1.5 billion numbers, and handling 1.5 million changes per day. They were also able


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to produce a quality controlled, standardized, GDPR-ready database which can be accessed on a usage or subscription basis with no upfront cost. But maybe even more importantly, XConnect has succeeded in making this onboard number portability information available to operators with a 1 msec/query response time - a key advantage for voice services for which low latency is so crucial. As a result, international operators can, for the first time, truly route calls in the most efficient way and develop costing structures on an operator by operator basis, and ultimately on a call-by-call basis, that benefit both the end users in terms of feature transparency, as well as their own bottom lines. For A2P messaging routing, XConnect also offers complete global coverage of number

portability and number range information, even in countries where there is no central NP database or when access to that database is simply unavailable. THE PROOF IS IN THE NUMBERS Perhaps there is no better way to understand the Number Portability opportunity than a real-life example of how this solution is being used today by one of XConnect’s customers (one of the world’s top global mobile groups) to improve efficiency and revenue generation. As the owner of multiple domestic mobile operators, you would have thought that obtaining portability data from each and combining it into a global view that they could use for routing would be a simple task. After all, they are all part of the same Group.

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But as we already know, each local mobile company must meet the specific requirements of their in-country regulator. They must also follow the processes and procedures and develop technical solutions that work in their own environment. Even though the Group may have had a preferred solution, local requirements are the priority, and so every local company ended up with a different approach. For the group to pull together a single view of portability and benefit from their central routing agent, even for their own entities, would require them to solve each and every one of the issues previously discussed. The man years of effort and investment that companies such as XConnect have deployed to create a global database would therefore have had to be replicated to tackle this problem at a Group level. The Group found that developing the database technology to manage billions of numbers, with highly dynamic real-time data updates, while at the same time supporting the requirements for thousands of queries per second with ultra-low latency, was both challenging and expensive. Extending that globally, with geographic resilience, only added to the investments needed. Even with that in place, the many operational costs surrounding the management of the data sources in each country, including licensing, handling technical and process changes and, finally, testing and validating the gathered data, were themselves prohibitive. Aside from the multi-million dollar technology capital investment, the operating expenditure could easily exceed US$100,000 per country per annum. A significant sum!

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Instead, the most cost effective solution was to simply outsource this service to XConnect, which meant a deployment time of weeks rather than years. For a range of countries, based on 30 million minutes per month per country, an operator with multiple direct MNO interconnects in the country can save US$400,000 per annum per country by applying XConnect’s portability based routing solutions. This can represent a substantial increase in gross margin on this traffic, a critical improvement in today’s world of wafer-thin wholesale margins. AND IT DOES NOT STOP THERE… But the opportunity does not stop there. For example, fraud is a major issue for the telecommunications industry, with estimates of US$85 Billion lost each year, and reaching up to 1% of a telco’s total revenue. Fraud mitigation services are a crucial element in reducing this loss and real-time Number Portability information can play a role in making this happen for international carriers. A common fraud type depends on routing calls to unallocated or special number ranges in a distant country and applying high charges to those. Using a combination of XConnect’s global number plan with call-by-call query capabilities, operators are able to detect and block such calls in real-time. Operator-sourced fraud hotlists of suspect originating and terminating numbers, coupled with advanced heuristics to detect fraud patterns, can be implemented simply in the call flow, further reducing fraud in real-time and offering potential ways to identify and block robocalls.


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In a similar way, the growing adoption of Origin Based Rating (OBR) by many mobile operators adds new challenges to international carriers. Terminating operators charge a different termination rate based on the origination of the call. To manage this correctly, carriers and operators must identify the country, and sometimes the network, of the originator of the call.

to develop themselves and when to partner with industry leaders. That decision, as well as choosing the right partners, will be pivotal in their success and ability to scale and innovate.

Based on this information, the correct (originbased) surcharge rate will be applied and appropriate routing choices made. XConnect’s real-time portability query service is key to identifying the correct originating country and network as a simple step during call set-up.

The work to create an accurate database is the same whether you query it a million times a day or a billion. Hence the more usage can be increased, the lower the cost per query.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, as many other mobile number portability use cases exist, as shown in the table below: THE END GAME As wholesale carriers’ business becomes increasingly complex, they must choose what

Resolving global number portability queries is one of the tasks for which partnering makes sense, as it is complex, time consuming and not scale dependent.

Each carrier could attempt to solve the problem on their own, but their time and money would be better spent, in our opinion, in solving that basic question for their business - how to reduce costs, while increasing value. Partnering with solution providers such as XConnect to alleviate the complexity and cost involved in setting up and maintaining a number portability database, is therefore something to seriously consider.

Mobile number portability use cases

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Steve Heap CTO HOT TELECOM Steve has a lifetime of experience in designing, engineering and operating networks, both domestic and international. With leadership experience in small technology start-ups through to global service providers, he has deep experience in a wide range of products, technologies and geographies. He has the rare skill of being able to explain complex technical issues in easily understood concepts and uses that extensively in his consulting work with HOT TELECOM.

ABOUT XCONNECT For over a decade, XConnect has been delivering carrier-grade services to over 200 operators globally, including many leading Tier 1 MNOs, business messaging (A2P) hubs, carriers and IPX providers. XConnect provides a trusted global registry of network and subscriber information, based on privacy-enabled phone number data, including number portability, to optimise global communication services. These services are used for voice and messaging routing, fraud protection and to identity and validate insights. They can also support next-generation communications, such as VoLTE and RCS. XConnect’s number information services are accessed through its INDEX platform using simple, secure, scaleable and real-time interfaces. To learn more, please visit http://www.xconnect.net

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Profile for HOT TELECOM

Number Portability - A puzzle unlocking voice opportunities  

It is hard to remember the days before number portability, and in fact, the right to take your telephone number with you as you choose a dif...

Number Portability - A puzzle unlocking voice opportunities  

It is hard to remember the days before number portability, and in fact, the right to take your telephone number with you as you choose a dif...

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