AT&T Wireless: Multiple Regions, One Plan

AT&T_logo
On Tuesday, October 29th, 2013, AT&T Wireless quietly made an important change to one longstanding policy on personal wireless accounts.  Prior to Tuesday, individuals and families seeking to combine phone numbers from different regions of the country onto a single AT&T Wireless account were mostly out of luck.

This limitation had become a bigger deal in recent years.  The most mobile in our society – college students and young adults – often keep a particular cell phone number long after their area code ceases to reflect their current area of residence.  It’s not uncommon for two AT&T customers to eventually form a household and want to merge their phones into a family plan, only to be rebuffed when they wish to hang onto the phone numbers that they’ve each carried with them from place to place.

Prior to this week, there was one workaround.  Some customers had successfully migrated their personal accounts into what AT&T calls an ‘NBI’ account, short for National Business Indicator.  As the name implies, NBI accounts were never intended for personal or family use.  Successfully getting into one depended on finding an AT&T representative willing to bend the rules.  But no more.

AT&T now allows personal wireless customers to combine phone numbers from different regions into a single account as a matter of course.  What was formerly a big deal now isn’t.  You can combine phone numbers from any part of the United States onto a single AT&T Wireless account as easily as you can combine two numbers located in the same town.

Now as a tech guy, seeing is believing.  My current iPhone and iPad happen to comprise an AT&T Mobile Share plan and carry phone numbers from New York City.  I have a number from another region that I wished to put to the test and merge into my AT&T account.  So today I walked into an AT&T retail store in Shelton, Connecticut.  In a matter of minutes, an AT&T Retail Sales Consultant was able to port the other number into my existing AT&T account.  I’ll be billed a $35 activation fee, and my Mobile Share plan’s monthly bill will increase to reflect the additional device.  The process is finally just as simple as it should be, making for good news for AT&T’s current and future customers.

Get a 212 Number in 2011

If you’ve ever spent so much as an afternoon walking around Manhattan, then you’re no doubt familiar with the 212 area code.  This area code was originally assigned to all of New York City in 1947 and later confined to the borough of Manhattan prior to the eventual use of overlay area codes.  Every long-established business in the city with a phone number posted out front has one that begins with 212.  While the most logical among us might argue that a number is just a number, many more will allow that 212 carries a level of credibility or cache the way few other area codes can.  Perhaps the 310 on the west side of Los Angeles and the 312 in downtown Chicago come in a close second and third respectively.

Pop Culture
If you’re from somewhere else and grew up during the Seinfeld era as I did, you too may have first become aware of the 212 area code while watching a Season 9 episode titled The Maid.  Kramer signs up to have restaurant menus faxed daily to Elaine’s apartment despite her not having a fax machine, creating an annoyance that forces Elaine to get a new phone number.  Elaine’s new number is part of the overlay area code 646.  Elaine is further frustrated when a guy to whom she hands out her number assumes that she’s from somewhere else, like New Jersey.  She finally resolves the issue by taking the 212 number of a deceased neighbor, Mrs. Krantz, leading to further comedy when the deceased woman’s grandson keeps calling.

Back to Reality
Nearly 13 years after that classic series wrapped, one might assume that it’s next to impossible for all but the largest corporations or the most well-connected individuals to land a new 212 number for business or personal use.  Relax.  If you want a 212 number, they’re still available at the time of this writing, at a reasonable cost, and the process could hardly be simpler.  I purchased mine in January, in part to try out a well-known Internet reseller of 212 numbers.

The Service
David Day’s 212areacode.com offers three tiers of 212 phone numbers for sale – categorized as personal, business and exclusive.  The personal numbers start at $50 at the time of this writing, while numbers that are subjectively more attractive for business start at $75, and finally those numbers deemed exclusive start at $250.  Having arrived at the service with a healthy level of skepticism, I went with a number in the least-expensive, i.e., personal class.

Getting Started
The process was surprisingly easy.  Immediately after navigating to 212areacode.com and purchasing the number, I received an e-mail receipt thanking me for my purchase.  Two days later, I received an assistance sheet describing the phone number porting process and providing additional information.  It was now up to me to port the number to the carrier of my choice.

Porting the Number
As this was still an experiment of sorts, I didn’t want to invest in a new phone until I could confirm that I was able to port the number to my own account successfully.  I pulled an older but still-functional AT&T Wireless Motorola RAZR V3 out of a drawer.  AT&T’s web site indicates that you can’t port a 212 number to a cell phone in the area where I live, well outside the geographic boundary of Manhattan.  Not taking any chances, I established a PO box at a Midtown Manhattan Post Office just prior to walking into a nearby AT&T Store.  At AT&T, they ran a credit check against my geographic address before setting up the account using the PO box, though they had no issues setting up the new service and porting the number.  I was in and out in 15 minutes with a 212 phone number established and working on my own account with AT&T.  Done.  Easy as that.

Other Porting Options
For those technical readers that are so inclined, 212areacode.com indicates that you can also port 212 numbers to Google Voice provided that your account indicates that it supports porting here.  Any other VoIP phone service that offers phone number porting should be able to handle this as well.

Last Word
All in all, it’s nice when a product or service is reasonably priced and works as advertised.  Feel free to call me at 212-7… well, on second thought, why don’t you post a comment using the link below.