How to switch mobile phone providers (and keep your phone number)

Summary: When you switch mobile phone carriers you always have the option to take your number with you. This is called Number Porting, and it is very, very easy to do.

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The great news for consumers is that it is very easy to switch between carriers in Australia, and there are even laws to protect your right to switch which ensure that you will keep your phone number.

As a mobile phone customer, your contacts and their phone numbers, your old emails, photos and other things are all controlled by you on your phone and it is very easy to switch phones and carriers with no interruption to your personal information.

Your phone number is held by your carrier, but only as long as you allow them to. When you decide to switch and you sign up with a new carrier, there is a system called Mobile Number Portability which means that the old carrier automatically relinquishes the number and transfers it to the new carrier.

Here's the switching process:
  1. Find a new plan, then sign up with a new carrier online, over the phone or in-store
  2. When signing up you will be asked whether you want to 'port' your number to the new account - simply provide your phone number and your account number with your current provider.
  3. Your new account will activate, the number will be ported to the new service in a few hours in most cases, but can sometimes take longer than a day.

Importantly, both your old number and your new number will work until the porting has been completed.

I thought it was harder?

It used to be harder than it is now. Carriers would try to lock you in by making you start again with a new number if you switched sides. This was not fair to customers and it's now thankfully been changed.

We have The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to thank for the reforms which make it easy to port your number to a new mobile carrier. Officially it is called Mobile Number Portability (MNP) , and it's one of the main drivers of competition in the mobile industry.

Will I get this option automatically?

Yes - strangely enough, it is actually more expensive for the telco to set up a new number than it is to transfer an existing numbers. You should easily find a number portability option as you sign up for new mobile phone and plan, no matter what medium you do it in. On an online store, look for the options to keep your number - remember it is officially called Mobile Number Portability or 'porting'.

Porting costs you nothing and saves you time and effort. It can also save you money if you have business cards or custom stationary to consider.

For more information from the ACMA, visit the website.

Tips from the ACMA

  • If you change your provider and keep your existing mobile number, remember you're not taking the service with you; just the number. You can only take your mobile number with you if you're the authorised customer, i.e: the person who is registered by name with the mobile service account with the mobile phone company.
  • Do not cancel your contract with your current provider before changing your service provider. Only connected phone numbers can be transferred.
  • If you have outstanding debts with your existing provider, you'll still be liable for paying them, even if you transfer your number to another provider. Having a debt cannot prevent you from changing providers, but your application for an account with a new provider will be subject to the usual credit checks.
  • Look into any technical and handset issues you might experience when you change providers. If you're keeping your handset, check whether it is compatible with the mobile technology used by your new provider.
  • If you're a pre-paid mobile customer, your mobile phone may be SIM-locked, and your current provider may charge you to unlock your SIM card if you want to use the same handset with another provider's network.

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