Mobile phone customers will be able to switch networks and carry their number with them within a day, according to recommendations likely to be made this week by regulator Ofcom.
A move to shorten the present period of five days to transfer a number has been under review for some months.
The ability to be able to "port" a number swiftly was be welcomed by smaller players in the industry. They believe a speedier system will boost competition by encouraging people to switch networks knowing they can use the same number.
Ofcom has been involved in a consultation process with the telecoms industry since November, aimed at shortening the present transfer period.
The watchdog believes the current system is too long and is an obstacle to greater competition. The system also works to the advantage of the existing network by giving it more time to negotiate a fresh deal with a customer proposing to defect.
Some smaller companies such as 3 UK are thought to have drawn Ofcom's attention to the practice in Australia, where people can hop from one network to another and take their numbers within two hours. However, such a radical proposal in the UK is thought impractical for technical reasons and is understood to have met with resistance by Vodafone and O2.
Among the objections are that it would give inadequate time to carry out proper credit and identity checks. 3 UK, which has been in the vanguard of the move for change, has pressed for a "fast, modern and consumer friendly porting system" by the end of this year.
The group said the UK is the only market where a customer has to get permission from an operator to transfer their number. "Frankly, this is unacceptable for a market as diverse as the UK," it says.
A survey by moneysupermarket.com, the price comparison website, showed 43 per cent, or 25.7 million, mobile users in the UK attach greater importance to keeping their current number than getting a new handset, free line rental or network coverage.
At present, a customer must call his present mobile phone company to say he wants to leave; tell customer services staff that he wants to take the number with him; ask for a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC ) - a reference number he will need to quote when moving his number from one company to another; tell his new network he wants to use his existing number quoting the PAC.
Some companies charge a fee to move numbers which can be as much as £25.Reuse content