Free At Last! Well, Sorta…

Today is the day that “number portability” goes into effect, theoretically letting you change cell phone service providers without having to lose your number. This only applies to people living in the top 100 largest metro areas in the US though, while others will have to wait until May (for apparently no good reason). And of course, number portability doesn’t get you out of a contract if you have one, so you have to stay with your provider for at least a little while longer. And then there’s the trouble of signing up with a new carrier…you’ll probably have to sign a contract again. So portable mobile phone numbers (oh how I hate that sentence) are really only a little more portable than before.

This new rule has already had an effect on the plans that some carriers are offering: Sprint has started its free evening calling starting at 7:00 pm instead of 9:00 pm, and T-Mobile added Friday to their free calling plan, creating a three day weekend. Cingular has bumped their Roll-Over Minutes plan up a bit, but primarily been touting their new “FastForward” phone cradle (pictured left) that transfers calls automatically to a landline when the cell phone is placed there. Forwarded calls do not count against a subscribers plan.

While it remains to be seen exactly what effect number portability will have, all of this gives us a taste of what’s to come: better plans, lower prices, new features, and perhaps an end to contracts. One analyst expects “massive price wars, and churn [will go] through the roof.” Let’s hope so!