The Essentials of Number Portability for Business Messaging

Number Portability for Business Messaging

XConnect is a market leader in providing information about telephone numbers. We have provided number information to the global telecommunications industry as well as Enterprises in the Finance and E-commerce sectors for 14 years.  

As XConnect is focused on Number Portability, we get a lot of questions from the business messaging industry surrounding Number Portability. We will take a few moments to answer those questions 

We have with us XConnect’s Market Development Director and Data Protection Officer, Lee Suker, and XConnect’s Head of Technical Solutions, Andy Cooper.

What is Number Portability and why is it important for A2P Business Messaging? 

Andy: At its most basic level, Number Portability is the ability to move your number between networks. That is, you keep your number when you change providers. Mobile Number Portability for messaging is really about the ability to know that a number has moved between networks.  


There are over 100 countries that have implemented Number Portability and the number of people who keep their number when changing carriers is increasing. Certain countries have number porting rates approaching 50%.  


In order to route a message correctly, you first need to know the network to which a telephone number currently belongs. The reason for needing to know that information is to make sure you deliver a message in the most efficient way. Knowing the current network owner of the number will save costs, guarantee quality, and/or make sure the message is actually delivered to the intended recipient 


Lee: I would just add one thing to that. For some segments in the market, porting a mobile number every year is a way of life. Other segments, such as older age groups, do not port out their numbers regularly.  

Many companies today rely on HLR Lookups to address MNP. Should they consider MNP [database]? 

Lee: The Home Location Register (HLR) is the part of the mobile network that tells you if an operator serves a telephone number or not. Using HLR would appear at first glance as something that seems to be the right thing to do. The challenge is that with operators putting blocking and filtering in front of their HLRs, you don’t get reliable results, you don’t get low latency, and often your capacity is very limited.  


Mobile Number Portability (MNP) on the other hand is a database sourced from the regulator and updated daily. Some service providers are able to combine MNP with HLR in their service portfolio.  MNP provides you an instant response, whereas HLR has greater latency but always provides you live data 


There are a few instances where using an HLR Lookup is the only way to derive the current network owner of a mobile telephone number. One example would be applications involving the unboxing of new phones. For most use-cases, MNP is the best, fastest, most reliable way to get Number Portability information. 

What are the benefits of using MNP? What are the consequences of not using it?

Lee: In short, reducing the number of hops that your messages take and terminating them directly to the terminating operator saves you money. But to get those contracts with operators, you need enough traffic. In those circumstances, if you misroute, you’re often charged an off-net penalty. The size of that penalty is crucial to the business case of using a Number Portability lookup service.  


If you have high message volumes and you can strike a deal with the terminating operator, you don’t want message throughput to be delayed by using an HLR Lookup. Instead, using MNP would provide fast, reliable, and ultra-low latency performance 

What are the countries that make the most sense to use MNP?  

Andy: The first consideration is to determine whether there is Number Portability in a specific country. With over 100 countries having implemented Number Portability, you still have over 100 countries that do not have Number Portability in effect.  Where Number Portability exists, you want to use MNP.  Where Number Portability doesn’t exist, you can use the number range data of that country to do your routing.  Some service providers offer global number range data in addition to MNP and/or HLR lookups 


You also need to look at the economics of SMS termination in a specific country. Certain countries offer a flat termination rate regardless of the underlying network.  If that’s true, then there is no need to know the network to which a number belongs and, therefore, no need to use MNP 


Many countries though have different termination rates between the networks and also have transit rates between networks, which generate fee when you hand the message to the wrong network and they have to forward it to the proper terminating network. In those circumstances, it can make economic sense to use MNP before you hand the message off to the termination network. In some extreme cases, unless you hand the call or message off to the correct network, it may not even get terminated at all, or they may just reject it completely.  


Lee, In some markets, it can be difficult to get reliable delivery receipts. If you don’t terminate to the terminating carrier directly, you may not get those delivery receipts at all, which can undermine your message termination quality and the service that you offer your customers. 


There are certain countries in the world that do not have a database for MNP. The UK is a prime example. In those countries, if you want to do Number Portability correction, you have no choice but to use an HLR based service.   

How has the use of MNP evolved over time?  

Lee: Number Portability correction is used significantly by the A2P messaging industry and it has been in use for a long time now. It is increasingly being used to save money and to also improve quality.  


There are new markets that are starting to use Number Portability correction; particularly, the bill-to-carrier market. If a consumer wants to pay a bill with their mobile phone, then that enterprise needs to direct the payment API request to the correct operator.  


Similarly, there are new services for the finance and ecommerce sectors, called KYC (Know You Customer) or ATP (Account Takeover Protection).  These are APIs provided by the operators and you need to call the correct operators’ API. These new types of services are driving a use case for more Number Portability information into the finance sector and into E-commerce.  


More often than not the A2P messaging companies also have to provide these types of APIs and KYC services to their enterprise customers. We would also like to see some data about MVNOs not just MNOs within query responses, but sadly, that data has yet to materialise in the market.  

What are the key features of XConnect’s MNP?  

Andy, XConnect has been operating its Number Portability query service for 5 years and we currently handle billions of queries per year for that service. 

The first key feature is Global Coverage. XConnect has built its Global Coverage using MNP as the preferred method and, where MNP is not available, we use HLR sources.  We normalise all of that data into a single easy-to-use interface.  


Secondly, the service is carrier-class. It is a bit of an overstated term, carrier-class, but when we talk about it, what we really mean is that you experience very low latency, so the query is very fast and you get a very fast response time. There is very high availability. There is a very high capacity in terms of throughput of messages queried per second. We have multiple points of presence to provide geographic redundancy. In addition, XConnect provides a 24 x 7 x 365 monitoring and support service to support customers in case they require assistance. 


Lee, It is important to put some real numbers on what we mean about low latency and high availability and high capacity. Using HLR Lookup as an example, at best you get a latency of maybe 350 to 500 milliseconds. If you were to start to query at a rate above 500 queries per second, HLR capacity can start to dry up. If you compare that level of performance against a Number Portability database service, such as Number Portability Query from XConnect, if the data is onboard, latencies drop to sub10 milliseconds and capacity increases to 10,000 queries per second. So, there is a huge difference between a carrier-class service, such as XConnect’s Number Portability query service, compared to an ordinary HLR Lookup. 


Andy, The third benefit of the XConnect service is how easy it is to consume for a customer. XConnect provides a flexible product offering in terms of both technical and commercial aspects. For example, you can consume the product over a query with ENUM, SIP, HTTPS or SMPP. You can connect with us at any of our European or US based points of presence.  The services are fully customisable. From a technical point of view, we can define additional message types, additional information fields, and can return specific customer information. We have a flexible commercial model – we have just about every single possible commercial model that you could imagine. 

The final pillar, which underpins everything, is about trust and security. XConnect puts a lot of time, effort and money into GDPR compliance. In terms of data protection and data privacy and security, we are ISO 270001:2013 certified. We are a founding member of the MEF Trust in Enterprise Messaging initiative, which focuses on cleaning up the messaging industry and making sure that players in the industry are reliable, trusted and secure.  




Alayne: Thank you for your time today. If you have another question, feel free to contact us directly. 

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