Tesco has been using Freshtel as the underlying provider of its VoIP service. Unfortunately the Australian VoIP company announced in March that it was closing its UK operations – something to do with an operating loss of $1.25m.
Tesco service is now apparently scheduled to be shut down on the 27th April. Nobody knows how many customers are affected but the Tesco was aggressively marketing the service for some considerable time so it could be quite a few.
The biggest problem is that Freshtel, being an Australian company and moreover not being an ITSPA (Internet Telephony Service Providers Association) member, did not have any porting arrangements with anyone in the UK. Ofcom are looking into it but time is short.
I understand that Tesco is talking to both Virgin Media and Cable and Wireless to try and find a solution. If one of them already hosts the Freshtel number range that could be an easy way out.
The situation is however further complicated by the fact that Tesco not only used low cost equipment at the customer premises but it is also locked to the Tesco service so that changing the VoIP service information for a new service provider is not easy or straightforward.
The whole subject of number portability is still an issue in the UK. Large service providers (BT, C&W et al) have no incentive to make it easy. They are the likely losers in the portability game.
Although on the face of it these service providers do say that they are willing to engage with other ITSPs in the interest of the customer the reality is that as large organisations they are a) staffed by teams of lawyers who have their jobs/reputations/companies to protect and b) often reluctant to deal with very small organisations who could go bust at any time and leave them with liabilites. These are actually quite understandable problems for large companies.
Dealing with a member of ITSPA notionally does mean that porting to other companies should be relatively easy but it is still early days and the system is not yet necessarily smooth. ITSPA has been campaigning for a standard porting contract to be made available for everyone in the industry to use. This almost certainly won’t interest the big boys but it could at least make setting up porting arrangents generally easier for everyone else. I’ll report back as I see progress being made here.