Two hours to transfer mobile numbers

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Mobile phone customers wanting to change networks and keep their number should be able to do so within two hours, industry regulator Ofcom has ruled.

The change should come in within just over two years. Meantime the present five days taken to transfer numbers is to be cut to two by next April. The move was welcomed by smaller mobile operators who believe it will encourage competition.

But it is likely to infuriate major telecoms groups most at risk from customers seeking cheaper deals with industry newcomers. Ofcom said the present system of transferring numbers took too long and "out of date". Research showed that "of those customers that have switched their number to a new network, about half think the process could be improved".

The present system "places responsibility on the consumer to see the transfer through." In future, customers will need to make just one call - to the new network - to carry out the transfer rather than obtaining authorisation from the existing provider.

The present system has come in for criticism because it gives the existing network more time to try to retain customers.

Sean Murray, the head of the mobile firm Noodle, said "This is a significant step in the right direction."

Kevin Russell, chief executive of 3 UK, believes the move to a two hour transfer could be pushed through within a year.

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