Is keeping the same cell phone number important to you if you switch carriers? If so, you won't have long to wait until the concept becomes reality.

With no chance of beating 'em, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has decided to join 'em and drop its opposition to the idea. In a successful publicity play, CEO Denny Strigl is calling for all carriers to join forces and implement Verizon's own "number portability" plan in order to make the process easier for all customers.

"There must be no barriers to easily switching service providers," he said yesterday, emphasizing that his company will not charge extra for the number portability, at least initially.

But Strigl's remarks drew criticism from competitors. "It's not the place of any one carrier to dictate the industry ground rules for the process; that's for the FCC to decide," said Sprint (NYSE:PCS) President Len Lauer. If Verizon were truly interested in making the process easy for its customers, he added, it should take leadership in allowing customers to port numbers between their home phones and wireless phones.

The Federal Communications Commission has ordered number portability to be available by Nov. 24. The commission and consumer groups believe that many private and business customers are hesitant to switch carriers for better service or price because they don't want to lose their phone number. They are looking for number portability to increase competition as switching barriers are lowered.

Wireless carriers have opposed the ruling in court, and but lost an appeal earlier this month.