back to article Ofcom mulls popular number charge

Ofcom is considering charging companies which want numbers in popular area codes, and getting rid of local phone dialling to eke out the existing number ranges. The two measures are open to consultation until February next year. They are designed to provide more local phone numbers - which are running critically short - by …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I am no expert but it seems to me that spreading out what you already have is, at best, a short term "sticking plaster" type of solution that isn't going to solve the real problem. Merely delay having to tackle it. That written, I guess any solution that involves grabbing more income from someone is likely to be favourable to those imposing it. But surely an extra digit to all the numbers would increase the range by a factor of ten, which would be much more useful. All you have to do is correct all the software that naively assumed number lengths were always going to be the same set length.

  2. Tigra 07

    No tit required

    How about getting rid of the phones and just putting a telephone box on every street instead?

    Noone uses home phones except cold callers anymore

    Where's the Registers picture of the tardis?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Home phone

      Correction: no-one uses home phones any more except cold callers and my mother-in-law. Just about every night.

    2. Number6

      Turn the heating on

      I use my home phone, mobile reception is mostly non-existent in my house. Standing outside to use a mobile in this weather would definitely put me the 'cold caller' category.

  3. Rob Beard

    Dial area codes

    I've kinda got in the habit of dialing area codes now along with the number so it's no biggie for me. I guess on some phones it might be able to program a local area code into a memory button anyway and even then lots of new cordless phones have phonebooks built in now.

    I dare say whatever the solution is someone won't like it though.


  4. Gareth Lowe

    I'm sure i'm not the only one

    I'm sure i'm not the only one who only has a landline to get broadband.

  5. Mike Shepherd

    Run out of numbers?

    Only Ofcom could run out of something infinite.

    If it wants to do something really useful, it could insist that all numbers end with a check digit, eliminating almost all wrong numbers.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: untitled

    "All you have to do is correct all the software that naively assumed number lengths were always going to be the same set length."

    You're making a naive assumption - the computer controlled exchanges I've worked on include the expected number length in the routing tree expansion for the various dialed numbers. They also include how many digits should be deleted from the front of the dialed number string or how many and what digits should be added and under what circumstances these actions should or should not be taken.

    I'm not saying the change is trivial to implement (I've seen it done before on a national basis), but it's not outside BAU office data change processes and wouldn't require a software rewrite.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Other countries

    I fully admit my ignorance on this subject, but I don't understand why a tiny country like the UK has had so many number changes (particularly London: 01, 071, 0171, 0207) whereas a huge country like the USA, with a vastly higher population, seems to use the same area codes year after year despite the fact that they don't use any more digits in their numbers than we do in ours.

    California has been 213 for as long as I can remember (and apparently it has been the same since 1947).

    1. Conrad Longmore


      Because.. well, it's complicated but it is all described here:

      To put it briefly.. they moved London from 01 xxx yyyyy to 020 xxxx yyyyy over the years to increase the potential numbers tenfold, and brought all "normal" lines into a scheme beginning 01 or 02. You couldn't just do that all at the same time, it would be complete chaos (as 020x numbers already existed under the old scheme).. so renumbering tool several stages, and London got the worst of it.

      And you are quite wrong about the 213 code, although it still exists it covers a much smaller area than it did in 1947:

    2. Conrad Longmore


      Because.. well, it's complicated but it is all described here:

      To put it briefly.. they moved London from 01 xxx yyyyy to 020 xxxx yyyyy over the years to increase the potential numbers tenfold, and brought all "normal" lines into a scheme beginning 01 or 02. You couldn't just do that all at the same time, it would be complete chaos (as 020x numbers already existed under the old scheme).. so renumbering tool several stages, and London got the worst of it.

      And you are quite wrong about the 213 code, although it still exists it covers a much smaller area than it did in 1947:

    3. Thecowking

      All numbers in the US

      Start with 555, I've seen it in every movie with US phone numbers in.

      Surely it'd be more efficient to drop those three numbers if they're on every phone number?

      213 indeed, you can't fool me!

      1. Dale 3


        Or at least have a separate 555 button to speed up dialling.

      2. Jim Morrow

        the 555 area code

        The 555 area code in the North American Numbering Plan is reserved. It's not assigned to any area and exchanges can't route calls to this area code. This means 555 numbers can be safely used in things like films and TV programmes. It stops stupid fuckers calling these numbers in the hope of speaking to Charlie's Angels or whatever. Or having everyone who saw the film call a number which is actually in use. Ofcom has set aside parts of the UK numbering plan for drama purposes too.

        1. Gareth 13

          @Jim Morrow

          Thanks for clearing that up.

    4. Vic

      Number changes

      > I don't understand why a tiny country like the UK has had so many number changes

      Because BT cocked it up.

      The reason given for the original "phone day" changes (when most area codes got an extra "1" in them) was that we were running out of local numbers.

      So what did they do? They expanded the area code namespace (which wasn't running out). Utterly pointless.


    5. irrelevant


      <pedant> 01 -> 071 & 081 -> 0171 & 0181 -> 020 </pedant>

      London's 01 was "lost" because of long term plans to add the "1" digit to the front of *every* landline , and other digits for other types of number, so London had to change in the meantime. It was given two codes because numbers were already running out. Now they are back to one code, 020. It couldn't happen all at once otherwise we'd have been getting a LOT or wrong numbers being dialled!

      Now we have different prefixes for different uses it's possible to tell, at a glance, what a given number is, and (to a certain extent) how much it costs. Previously, would you have been able to tell which of 0500 0625 and 0468 were the cheapest and most expensive?

      With the exception of the areas that moved to 02x numbers, none of that actually increased the quantity of numbers available within an area code, it just made it easier to add more services and more area codes (particularly for 07 mobile numbers)

      Originally 03 was to be used for more area codes, but it ended up being used for UK-Wide numbers. Maybe it should have been.

    6. kain preacher

      US area codes

      Um you do know California has added area codes. During the 50's some area codes changed between states.

    7. Fatman

      US area codes

      You would be surprised to learn that in the US, number changes are too a PITA.

      There are generally two ways they are accomplished:

      1) splitting an existing area code, with the larger percentage of numbers staying with the existing area code; or

      2) overlaying a second area code on top of an existing one. In this situation, new customer lines generally get the newer area code. This almost insures 10 (or 11) digit dialing. In my own area code, some numbers are 7 digits, others are 10 and some are 11 (what a fscking nightmare!!!)

      The area where I live, had its original area code split up several times. Originally, the area code was 813, later 727, 863, 941 and 239 have been added to the same geographical area once covered by 813. Some customers went from 813 -> 941 -> 239 in a span of only a few years. Still NANPA (North American Number Plan Administrator) is concerned about number exhaustion. What are they going to do as area code prefixes dwindle is uncertain. Since North America (Canada, the USA, and many Caribean Islands share the +1 country code, one possibility is to append a second digit as the long distance dialing prefix. But that would NOT go over very well. Think of all of the legacy equipment and software designed for at most, a 10 digit telephone number! You can be sure people are going to bitch about it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Paris Hilton

        how many numbers in a phone number?

        >> Think of all of the legacy equipment and software designed for at most, a 10 digit telephone number!

        FFS another "won't anyone think if the children" whinge. The maximum length of an E.164 telephone number is 15 digits. So anyone who's deployed telephone kit that can't support this needs a good kicking. The Sale of Goods Act also applies, so if you've bought something that is so fundamentally broken, get the supplier/shop to replace it with something that isn't broken.

        Paris icon because she can cope with 15 digits, no problem.

    8. Number6

      And the rest

      California has more than just 213. San Francisco uses 415, San Jose and other bits of the Bay Area use 408. 650 is used just to the left of that. Others in use are 310, 424, 323, 562 and a load more I can't be bothered to type - use Google (in 650) to find the full list.

      213 is actually Los Angeles proper, and covers a very small area.

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Follows what I've thought for years

    Get everyone to dial the area codes, then gradually morph the area codes as part of the number itself. You end up with 9,999,999,999 UK phone numbers. Just how many does a 60M population need? With modern electronic systems there is no need for an area code, not even for billing purposes. You know exactly where every number is.

    For the icing on the cake, introduce the telephone equivalent of DNS and you can forget the numbers altogether. Phone people and companies by name and address/postcode.

    PS (I dropped the leading zero).

  9. Dr Paul Taylor


    How about moving all corporate numbers to 04xxx and have the telephone equivalent of and

    I use 8-digit London numbers, but Ofcom wrecked the idea of area codes with the confusion over 020 7 and 020 8.

    1. irrelevant

      Corporate numbers

      already exist, in the 05 number range. Look up phone numbers for Abbey branches sometime. Unfortunately, Ofcom made it so hard for companies to get them, hardly any bothered.

    2. Jim Morrow

      phone numbers and domain names

      " How about ... the telephone equivalent of and"

      There is. It's called ENUM. It's dead. The .tel TLD was an attempt to do this too. It's not been a great success.

  10. kain preacher


    Um drop the requirement for a minimum amount of numbers.

  11. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    1000 number blocks

    for "technical reasons" WTF??

    So how many possible telephone numbers are there, and how many internet addresses? DNS works to say where to route an address, why not use the same system for telephone numbers? You shouldn't have to route a number by only looking at the first few digits any more, you should be able to route the whole thing. Just have a single directory for number vs. routing location!

    1. Fatman

      RE: 1000 number blocks?

      You guys should be so lucky!!!!

      In the USA, numbers are often assigned in 10,000 number blocks [xxx-0000 through xxx-9999].

      NANPA* has been trying to get allocations reduced to 1000 number blocks for some time, but has not gotten anywhere

      * NANPA = North American Number Plan Administrator

  12. Fuzz

    area codes

    There are 2000000000 numbers available for landline use in this country. Problem is we have an archaic reliance on area dialing codes. With a digital phone system it shouldn't matter what your code is. Why can't we just make all numbers non-geographic, if we do that we can even add the 03 series of numbers giving us an extra billion to go round.

    I don't hear anyone worrying about running out of 07 numbers for mobiles, reason being they aren't restricted by where you live.

  13. Vic

    Isn't there a very simple solution to this?

    Why not just fix the "technical issues" that mean you allocate in 1000-number blocks?

    Sure, it'll mean the routing is a bit trickier - but that's what computers are for.

    Let companies buy up numbers in whatever quantity they want, and charge them accordingly. If someone sits on 1000 numbers they aren't using, they pay for them.


  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Broadband only lines with no phone number?

    How about requiring BT Open Reach to offer households broadband without a traditional telephone service - and charging only for the broadband and not the often redundant landline. I don;t even know my landline number, and never use it.

  15. Bill P. Godfrey

    "Dial 01 if you're outside London."

    What happened if someone inside London dialled 01?

    1. karabuni


      Not a technophobe - see, I can use a computer(& have done for 23 years), but to be cityist, there are places where mobile phones don't work (out in the country, beyond the M25).

      Our previous neighbours had no landline, and all their calls had to take place in the garden. There are whole areas round here (Fenland), where there is no signal.

      In our last house (Rye, E, Sux.), the only way to use a mobile was with it & your head pressed against the bathroom window, even then it was pretty useless.

      If everyone's phone number started with 0 (the area code one, what's the 0 for?

      1. Jim Morrow

        what's the 0 for?

        In the days of rotary-dial phones and Strowger exchanges - ask your grandparents - the initial 0 was used to tell the exchange you would be making a trunk call: going outside the local exchange in other words.

  16. Tron

    'More popular area codes'?

    Is there really anyone out there so shallow as to be impressed by an area code?

    Pass puberty and put away childish things.

  17. pompurin


    Somebody needs to port NAT over from IPv4, or we'll have the dreaded equivalent of IPv6 thrown at us.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "Noone uses home phones except cold callers anymore"

    Thank you for your kind generalisation.

    No one under 40 has an IQ over 40.

    See where it leads you?

    1. PJI

      he must be

      a single person with unlimited budget and can not find the off button on his mobile. Everyone I know, all ages, prefers to use their land line when possible: cheaper, often better reception and anyone in the dwelling can answer the 'phone, with no problem over reception because the flat is covered in several floors of concrete, or the old house is in a hollow and made of granite or the battery has gone flat ....

      Regarding mobiles and dialling area/supplier codes: I suspect that most of us ringing from a mobile ring numbers stored in the mobile most of the time and store the international prefix too as, it being a mobile, one may use it abroad. I suspect most private individuals rarely "dial" a number (except to save it to the 'phone memory) other than to ring a shop or some such and, even then, if it is the barber or the dentist, they probably store that too. Even on the landline, as the 'phone can store a couple of hundred numbers, I rarely dial a number as all my usual ones are stored in the device, whether at work or at home.

      As for just extending numbers: quite apart from the software changes and configuration costs in private and public systems, the cost is unbelievable for the publicity/education alone, the organisation and so on. And never forget, the vast majority of the population use "technology" in all their devices in just the same way they use a kettle or a microwave - not a thought as to the technology behind it or even that it is a technical device and so no idea of more than the simplest functionality and no interest either as, like a kettle, all technology is just a means to get a job done so you can get on with the important things in life. Judging by many of the "informed" comment on these pages, even so-called technically aware people in reality do the same, knowing the jargon and not the technology.

      In fact, as with all customer interfaces, if the average person does have to be aware and concerned, it is a bad interface - hence the success of Apple through providing the easiest interfaces for what most people want to do most of the time. The nerds who want to build their own 'phones, cars, computers can do that as their hobby while the rest of us just buy a device that works and get on with life. if it is too awkward to use, we get replace it or have the sense not to buy it in the first place (hence the failure of Linux to penetrate the mass market; I write that as a UNIX specialist who loves command line, pipes, filters....). This is why the way to use a telephone, in all its forms, has not changed fundamentally since its inception, within a few minutes of first acquaintance, it is easy to use for all ages and mental abilities and stays reasonably consistent across decades, even centuries.

    2. Frederic Bloggs

      No one under 40 has an IQ over 40.

      Any ful knos dat!

      The Daily Mail (et al) whinges about this daily, wat with the edik... eeduk... er.. system being wat it is.

      And if a bit of cross posting is allowed can I make a plea for Satnavs to talk Naawfuk after having their passports stamped at Thetford.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo

    Didn't Ofcon recently release a vast quantity of standard-rate numbers?

    "There aren't enough numbers, with suitable area codes, to go around "

    It's not so much the area codes that matter for some callers and callees. It's the rate you're paying to call it.

    Get all the corporate PABXs using vast number ranges for DDI (often to a tiny number of employees) to move to 03 numbers. Let them keep a "local" number or two for the switchboard etc if they wish. The rest of the staff get 03 numbers, for which standard landline charges apply [1].

    Return the freed-up numbers to the available pool. Corporates get to keep their DDI (albeit with new numbers, but they can pick their own from a massive range).

    Oh, and stop VoIP providers being allocated vast number ranges which they then proceed to use as nothing more than a cold-caller honeytrap. Yes AAISP, I'm looking at people like you - but at least you put your allocated but unused numbers to a constructive use, most don't.

    Job done.

    Ofcon can have my BACS details on request as I'm sure they'll pay me rather than some vastly expensive telco-funded marketing expert.

    [1] 03 numbers are not premium rate numbers, contrary to several variants of the "Parcel Delivery Service" chainmail currently circulating.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No problem.....

      ..we'll do that.

      Just provide the money to update all the litrature, update all the websites, telephone directories (including online one), increase the number of switchboard operators 10 fold and refund the lost business because the number no longer works. and I'm sure we'll happily do it.

      A few million should do the trick.

      PS we have currently 125 0845's in use and 200 DDI's (down from 500)

      So not your average piss sized 5 empolyees.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        this title contains letters and digits

        "update all the litrature, update all the websites"

        I'll come to that.

        "refund the lost business because the number no longer works. and I'm sure we'll happily do it."

        So have a planned transition then. Activate the new numbers. Calls to the old number get a recorded message with details of the new number. Three (?) months later the old numbers close, and after a suitable period (most of) the old number range is released for re-use.

        How many of the DDIs need to be published in the literature, websites, etc?

        Maybe ten or twenty? So the contacts of those ten or twenty people need to be notified, given a transition period, close down the 'old' number and after a suitable transition period return it to the 'available' pool. Not rocket science, is it?

        So yes there's an issue with updating directories etc for the DDI numbers that move to 03, but it's a rather smaller issue (in volume) than moving from 0171 xxx to 020 7xxx.

        "So not your average piss sized 5 empolyees."

        Maybe not, but why would any 5-employee company want any worthwhile quantity of DDI numbers allocated to it ? Compare eggs with eggs please.

  20. oopsie

    the title is required, but may be superfluous

    With even the most basic of mobiles having a phone book, the comparison between mobiles and fixed lines seems shakey?

    Is there anyone out there with some landline user demographics? I'd have expected a disproportionate number of people who're still using land lines to be more resistant to technological change and therefore the group that'd complain loudest about a big change to the numbering system.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    10 ^ 10?

    So 10 ^ 10 = a lot of numbers, which the boffins at Ofcom have divided up in a way that means they're running out of numbers again.

    Perhaps they need to rethink the rules on 1,000 number blocks, maybe for smaller providers they should limit the number requests and claim back any unused numbers.

  22. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    Dialling area codes

    I use (because it's a damn sight cheaper without needing to pay for an over-priced bundle package!) so I dial an area code for all local numbers anyway.

    It's not hard.

  23. Martin 19

    How about give VOIP phones their own area code?

    This will also stop dodgy bastards from having a VOIP call centre in Whereverthehell with an '020' or '0121' or whatever code to trick people into thinking they're calling a local operation.

    Just a thought.

    There are 2 main users of POTS landlines these days, small businesses and the elderly; both of whom would be messed around royally by mandatory area code dialling. Then again, a large proportion of Londoners (for example) haven't yet figured out that their area code is '020' and not '0207' or '0208'.

    1. kevjs
      Jobs Horns

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      They did - 050 IIRC, but no one liked it.

      VOIP is good when you have an office in a certain area, and the boss elsewhere - you can all be inside the local PBAX and have the same outgoing number...

      Anyway, local area codes don't really work anyway, especially when part of the urban area is classed as being in a different town, you end up with local radio needing to include the numbers in full anyway.

    2. Chris Fox

      Er, like 056?

      There already is a UK VoIP area code (056), and a corporate area code (055), although at present there is not much incentive for VoIP providers to encourage use of the 056 code over a geographic code. Some providers, such as Voipfone do give you a free 056 number, and charge for a geographic one, but others, like Sipgate, hand out geographic numbers for no charge. Calls to 056 destinations may sometimes be charged at a higher rate depending on the calling network. For example, from BT payphones you only get 55s for 10p to a 056 number, as opposed to 900s for 10p to a geographic number, even though 056 calls are charged like 01 calls from domestic BT lines.

    3. Joe 3

      Tell me about it

      The local part of my 020 number starts with 3, and I'm forever having to explain to people that I'm in London, it's not a new area code, the three is part of the local number, that's why it was changed from 0171, etc.

      Signwriters who put 0207 and 0208 should be sent to Siberia for re-education! Or something.

  24. Seanmon

    Area codes?

    When was the last time you actually *dialled* a number anyway? These days you go: tap - scroll -scroll -scroll - select. Job done.

  25. M7S

    Incentive for the operators to stuff the customers

    "You're in a block that's not heavily used at this time, so we are going to return it to Ofcom as we dont want to pay the new fee. Give us thousands of pounds not to do so, as it will cost you ten times that to change all your stationary, headed paper, advertising material and notify all your customers of the new number. Dont think about a simple re-direct as we wont have the number to put an automated message onto for you. Thank you for choosing [your telecoms company] today"

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here we go

    The authorities have made a pigs arse of every numbering change they've implemented, and Ofcom in its brief existence has shown an above average lack of talent in their attempts to make premium rate, free etc etc make any sense. All any of these clever schemes have done is muddy the water - while I know pretty much which number ranges are likely to be expensive, the variations within a range can be massive.

    There are only two things Ofcom consider any good; market forces and making people pay for things. Apparently this magical thinking is all it takes, only it doesnt work, which is why some companies are hording vast swathes of spectrum.

    Applying the same to numbering will guarantee two things; consumers will pay more for phones, and companies will force phone number changes on users to add miniscule amounts to their bottom lines. As ever the unintended consequences of Ofcoms primary school intellect will fall directly in our lap, and the fix is sure to take a lot longer than the original fuck up.

    They'd probably have more luck getting it right by soliciting suggestions from a primary school class and choosing one at random.

  27. Alex Brett

    Number blocks

    The issue is the system the UK uses for number routing - communication providers (CPs) get allocated a 1000-number block, and other CPs then send any calls for that block to the particular CP. Aside from the number wastage problem, it also makes porting difficult - we have to use a system called onward routing which means the CP who 'owns' the number block (the donor CP) forwards calls to a ported number on to the CP who now has that number. Porting a number that has already been ported then gets even more complicated as you can imagine!

    Internationally the UK is actually held up as an example of how not to do it - if (like most countries now) we had a central database then porting gets much simpler (just update the relevant DB entry), and you no longer have to issue 1000 number blocks - you can do much smaller allocations (even down to single numbers) without problems. CPs can also return numbers they no longer need. It even has the benefit that you can specify multiple ways to connect a call, so a VoIP provider calling another VoIP providers number can keep it pure VoIP rather than having to go via the PSTN.

    Unfortunately, it's the large carriers like BT who will likely be against this, as it would end up quite expensive for them to adapt all their systems to do this central lookup rather than onward routing, and have very little benefit for them. Being the large carriers, they have a lot of influence with Ofcom etc, so it's likely nothing is going to happen in the short term...

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