Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The perils of provider lock-in

I run a consulting and contracting company. I do some Perl, Objective-C, the odd bit of hardware, and write apps for the iPhone. My business cards all have the same phone number on them, which is a dial-in number attached to a VoIP account with the Gizmo Project.

Up until a week ago this worked fairly well. When I was on the move I either picked up calls from my laptop, or if I missed them, voice mail got forwarded to me via email. When I was at home I used a hardware SIP phone on my desktop, and voicemail still got emailed to me if I missed a call.

What's gone wrong? Well the number doesn't work anymore and, at least according to customer support, Gizmo doesn't have a clue as to when it might start working;

Our provider for your number in the United Kingdom is experiencing technical problems with their numbers. They are working on this issue but have been unable to provide us with a time frame for when these numbers will be functional.

To remedy this situation we have 2 options for our customers:
  1. Offer you a replacement number
  2. If you would like to keep your number, we will extend your expiration date to cover the time it was down once the numbers are restored and functioning normally.

Please respond to this email to let us know of your decision. We are sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused and look forward to getting this resolved quickly.

This is not the best customer service I've ever experienced. It wouldn't be quite so bad if the number just dropped straight to answer phone, but it doesn't even do that. Effectively, if you want to reach me by phone about my business, you have to already be doing business with me and have my mobile number. This isn't great, it's all about first impression after all.

After talking with a friend who does this sort of stuff for a living it looks like I'm pretty much stuck at this point, number portability for landlines is in its infancy in the UK. My guess? The provider has gone bust in the current recession and I'm not getting my number back.

Lesson learned. For something as important as a phone number, provider lock-in is a real problem.