Communications Recovery Through Local Number Portability (LNP)
To this point in this series, we've discussed a number of ways to maintain 4Ci after a disaster. But while outbound notification systems, email recovery, inbound call recovery, and other technologies certainly have their place, one technology truly stands out for voice communications recovery: Local Number Portability (LNP). The LNP database is administered by a private company called NeuStar, Inc., which we'll discuss in more detail shortly. If we can get past a few regulatory issues, LNP has the potential to eclipse many of the technologies discussed thus far and actually become the gold standard in voice recovery.
In a disaster, voice is the preferred communications medium, and the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) in the USA and other countries remains the central connectivity hub for voice. Mobile telephone, wireless, satellite phones, and Voice over IP all connect to the PSTN through some form of switch or gateway. Wireline telephone users are connected to the PSTN in order to communicate with other PSTN-connected users, as well as to other technologies such as wireless and VoIP. As we pointed out earlier in this series, recovering voice communications requires at least some level of participation by the local telephone company. The individual local telephone companies do things a little differently from each other, sometimes on a proprietary basis. Thus, end users must assume responsibility for precisely how to maintain their voice communications services. That's also why we all need solutions such as outbound notification and inbound call recovery servicesso that we can stay in control and not depend on the phone companies.
These "bolt-on services" depend on call-forwarding technologies of various flavors. Call forwarding is completed by programming the call-receiving central office switch to receive and forward a call to a designated location or device. This process can be activated locally at the phone set by dialing *72 on the line itself, or remotely by using a feature called Remote Access to Call Forwarding (RACF).
Another possibility is the Advanced Intelligent Network (AIN). AIN can be thought of as a data network that tells the voice network what to do; in fact, it uses many of the same components as Signaling System #7 (SS7). AIN is a telephone network architecture that separates service logic from switching equipment, enabling a service provider to create the capability within its switching fabric to facilitate automatic rerouting of telephone calls. If the receiving central office switch is out of service for any reason, AIN can be used to reroute calls elsewhere. Since AIN is usually a proprietary technology, it's generally capable of rerouting calls only within a single carrier or service provider's network.
AIN, RACF, and a "command routing" capability for 800 services are pretty much what we've had available to use with outboard solutions such as those deployed by Telecom Recovery, Dell MessageOne, and Telecontinuity. However, on the horizon are systems based on Local Number Portability, which promise to add a whole new dimension to the science of restoring 4Ci communications. Local Number Portability transfers ("ports") telephone numbers from one service provider to another or one technology to another, based on the information in the LNP database.
Many of us, particularly in the Generation X demographic, have used the LNP porting process without even knowing it. Many end users have abandoned wireline phones in their homes in favor of wireless devices. During this kind of switch, many wireless carriers offer the option of keeping your old phone numberan option that takes advantage of LNP.
The benefits to using LNP in an emergency are obvious. When the caller dials a telephone number, the call is completed regardless of the status of the wireline's central office switch. Because calls can be ported to a wireless line, satellite, VoIP, or WISP almost instantly by use of the LNP database, surviving technology can be placed in service transparently through the use of number portability. Updating the LNP database can be accomplished by any carrier, and the change becomes effective in as few as 15 minutes.
However, this idea isn't popular with carriers. Why not? First, they don't want to pay for it. Second, they don't like the effect that it could have on their customers and revenue if they were to experience a disaster themselves. Think about it: If your carrier has a disaster, and you move to another provider temporarily, you might decide never go back to your original carrier. So if you call your carrier to port a number, you may be told that the process takes up to a week, even though it takes only a few minutes to update the LNP database. (We know this from experience, because we used to be a CLEC and have made such changes personally.)
So what's the solution? At present, anyone that has a disaster can call the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) and get permission to coordinate a number move on an emergency basis. We also recommend that you participate in forums at the FCC that are dedicated to formalizing this process. It's the role of government to mandate the role of carriers in this regard, and the FCC or your state utility commission is the proper forum.
The rapid evolution of this industry demands constant activity in this regard, according to Barry W. Bishop, Senior Director of Public Safety for NeuStar:
While strengthening the United States infrastructure is important, rapid restoration in response to a widespread interruption of service arguably should be the number-one priority to ensure real-time accessible communications.
In our opinion, the use of LNP represents nothing less than a totally new concept for restoring voice communications in times of emergency. LNP utilizes an existing centralized database capable of dynamically rerouting telephone numbers in time of disaster. It's not a mass-notification system per se, but it sure would work great with such a systemif we could only get some rules formalized as national policy. Unquestionably, LNP could help when used in conjunction with these systems if a Katrina-style disaster should strike again. LNP could also be attractive to governments, organizations such as banks and brokers whose facilities happen to straddle earthquake fault lines, users based in coastal areas prone to flooding, and so on.
Meanwhile, NeuStar has developed its own disaster recovery service. With Port DR, telephone companies (but not yet users) can point traffic away from a disabled central office switch and toward another switch or technology that's still workingwithin the affected service provider's network, or to an affiliated network or even a competitor's network. The actual process is largely the same as when you port your landline phone to a wireless phone, or vice versa. Using the LNP database, NeuStar can restore services for anything from a single phone line to an entire area codewhich is what happened during the Katrina emergency, when some of the 504 area code for Louisiana was redirected to Dallas, Houston, and even Atlanta! As we've mentioned, this solution is currently available only to communications carriers. If you're an enterprise user or other consumer of telecom services, all you can do right now is nag your local provider to contact NeuStar to implement Port DR.