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Porting the World's Largest Phone Number Database

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Porting the World's Largest Phone Number Database

October 16, 2018

Between email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype (News - Alert) and text messaging, no one really needs a phone number anymore, right?


Phone numbers are as important as ever—even among people who spend most of their time online. 83 percent of U.S. adult internet users had a phone conversation with a customer service rep in the past year, Forrester Research says. And a Google survey found that 47 percent of mobile search users won’t do business with a company if they can’t find its phone number.

Those are just few reasons why the North American Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) plays such a key role in both the US economy and everyday life. It’s responsible for keeping track of roughly 650 million U.S. phone numbers—the world’s largest such database—enabling consumers to keep their phone number when they move from one service provider to another to either get a better price, a better device or for better service. Keeping a phone number is something that consumers may take for granted but, in fact, the number porting through the NPAC is the backbone of competition in the telecom industry and has provided enormous cost and service benefits to consumers. Furthermore, the NPAC ensures that 1,500+ telecom service providers and other providers of telecom-related services always have the correct, updated information they need to rate, route and bill for calls.

Considering the role the NPAC plays, processing millions of transactions every day, there was clearly a lot at stake when it was time to migrate the NPAC to iconectiv (News - Alert), the nation’s new Local Number Portability Administrator (LNPA). As executive vice president of LNPA services at iconectiv, I was responsible for ensuring that this transition to a more streamlined, cost efficient and effective system went flawlessly. I was also responsible for creating a secure, modern system that would save the telecom industry hundreds of million dollars annually.

Completed in May 2018, the transition was one of the largest projects in U.S. telecom history. It began in 2015, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) chose iconectiv as the next LPNA. That might sound like plenty of lead time but it wasn’t when you consider:

  • The previous LPNA wasn’t just turning over the existing NPAC system to iconectiv. Instead, we had to build our own from scratch, which involved writing millions of lines of code, conducting thousands of hours of testing and interfacing with the back-office systems of more than 1,500 service providers and government agencies.
  • Our system also was held to higher development and testing standards than the incumbent system and included more stringent government security requirements.
  • The system consists of seven regional databases, not just one national database, each serving a geographic section of the country.
  • It also needed to support a wide variety of other communication needs including those for public safety and law enforcement agencies.
  • The transition required complete cooperation from every one of those service providers, as well as multiple government, law enforcement and public safety agencies.
  • The deadline could not be extended and the transition from the existing system to the new one had to be completed within a few hours in the middle of the night during four highly orchestrated cutover windows.

It’s no wonder the NPAC is considered the world’s most complex number portability system.

All Together Now

My approach, based on projects I had managed throughout a 25-year career at companies such as Canoe Ventures, and IDT Telecom (News - Alert), is what I call “total alignment.” All the players—whatever their role — had to become a team. This means that everyone must know what they are doing, by when and how it aligns with all the other tasks and elements of the project.

Achieving total alignment was challenging partly because I started with a small team and ended with nearly 300 software developers, testers, project managers, system engineers, operations staff and other technical and business experts. I had to keep all of them motivated and focused—during the week and on multiple weekends and holidays.

Another challenge was keeping up with all of the input, progress and issues from the constantly growing iconectiv team and reconciling their progress with the input from external stakeholders such as service providers, the FCC, the North American Numbering Council (NANC) and the North American Portability Management LLC (NAPM).

Projects are successful when everyone has a voice and leadership listens. People must trust that you will make the best decisions for the entirety of the project and take action based on how you integrate the facts and predict the various outcomes. A leader must effectively communicate to all stakeholder groups, prioritize the most mission critical tasks, measure progress against milestones and understand how to manage to success.  In short, to lead a project of this magnitude with such broad industry and government participation, the leader has to “sweat the details.”  “If you can’t measure, you can’t manage” it is one of my leadership doctrines and if you need to measure it, you need to understand all the puts and takes.

Trust and transparency is key. Your customer needs to know you are acting in their best interest and that your intent and all your energy is focused on delivery. Your team needs to know that you are listening and making sure they have what they need to succeed as individuals and as a team. Without that decisiveness at the top, people inevitably get distracted and deadlines slip. They have to trust the project leaders to make the right decisions at the right time, every time.

In a meeting after the transition was complete, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “The fact that no one knew the transition was happening outside of this room speaks to its success.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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