back to article End of UK local dialling in sight as numbers run out

Dialling your neighbour is going to take longer as Ofcom abolishes local calls in some areas of Britain, warning that numbers are running out. Starting in Bournemouth, people will have to dial the area code along with their 01 local number to stop the network confusing your Auntie Lynne's landline with a stranger's mobile …


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    1. Chad H.

      All local calls will requrie the full number, includiung area code.

      At the moment on your exchange a number that begins with "0" goes in one direction (the National Trunk network) whereas numbers that don't stay local - so you can't have a local phone number beginning with 0.

      To add an extra number I imagine would require issusing a whole lot of people a new number causing issues for people phoning into that area from outside; whereas by forcing local calls to use the full STD code the change is seemless from outside the local area.

      Personally, working in a national call centre it irritates the heck out of me when people don't give the area code (like I know where you are), so enforcing local calls to use the area code to me is a good thing.

    2. Lamont Cranston
      Thumb Up

      Broadband and emergency calls only

      is a good idea, but I don't think that "most people" only have a landline for broadband.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Most people only use landlines because they are there. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, and if the landline wasn't there, would be using it.

        Nobody likes to be chained to the house.

        I think 60% of savvy consumers would pick a Naked DSL service at discount. (£8/Month line rental)

  1. JasonW

    Typical half-assed OFCOM

    Why not do it everywhere? Then again I have all the (full, including code) numbers I call programmed into my phone anyway so makes no difference to me...

  2. Owain 1

    Always change your number

    I was stupid enough to take the phone-number already allocate to the line to the house we bought. It had been empty for a couple of years and so I thought nothing of it. However 4 years later we are STILL getting calls from debt collectors for the previous but 1 owners. We hear they emigrated to Spain. Swines.

  3. Marky W

    Oh, El Reg!

    How I love your subheadings.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I for one...

    ... remember the "1 to remember" campaign all those years ago, that informed us that they were adding "1" to the numbers in a move that would ensure we'd never run out of numbers.

    Many years later a "2" was added to london numbers, again in a move that would ensure we'd never run out of numbers.

    Why don't they just add nnnn to ensure we never run out of numbers (at not in my lifetime anyway). Or lets swtich to hexadecimal phones :)

    1. Pete B

      When is a new number not a new number

      Heh - just because you change it doesn't mean that your "new" number won't have any history attached to it.

      1. Blofeld's Cat

        New number

        Indeed. I was given a "new" number which had once belonged to a taxi firm. The firm had stopped trading about ten years earlier, but evidently some of the local pubs etc. still had their cards.

        I finally managed to get a different number.

      2. MJI Silver badge

        Reused number

        3 numbers, was originally 1, now back to original 1

        The second line number was the local catalogue bargain shop and used to get calls and faxes, ended up using line 1 for that phone rather than its own line.

        Returned to 1 line when broadband replaced ISDN.

        Can't remember the ISDN number now at all.

        1. LateNightLarry

          Reused number...

          Well not really reused... There was a joke floating around some years ago about a woman who moved into a new house and got a telephone number which was the same as a major hotel in the city, except the hotel had an 800 (toll free) number... hers was 415-253-nnnn, the hotel's toll free number was 800-253-nnnn. Soon she started getting calls all day long for reservations, and for banquets, wedding receptions, etc. At first she gave the callers the correct number. Then she tried to get the hotel to change their number... no dice, they had many thousands of dollars in advertising in circulation. Finanlly, when nothing seemed to work, she started "taking" all the reservations, etc., and of course, not doing anything with them. People were arriving expecting a room, or a banquet, or a wedding reception, and of course the hotel knew nothing about them... After a few months of that, the hotel's reputation tanked, and it was bought out by another chain. The first thing the chain did was come to the lady and ask her to work with them... they changed their 800 number, and paid the woman a substantial sum to refer calls to the correct number, which she gladly accepted. The final thing she did was to change HER number, and have the telephone company forward all calls for her old number to the hotel. Don't know if the joke is really true or not, but it's fun reading.

    2. Clive Galway

      And the rest


      It started off 01

      Then went to 071 / 081

      Then 0171 / 0181

      Then 0207 / 0208

      I remember the first stage anyway, cause that was my first programming job - writing DBASE IV code to trawl a database and convert 01 codes to 071 / 081

      1. Steve Evans

        @And the rest...

        Almost spot on... Technically speaking 020 is now London.

        At the moment only 0203, 0207 and 0208 are used, the rest are held in reserve. 0200 and 0201 aren't available due to routing.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Owain 1

      I would tell them to stop immediately as you consider their behaviour harassment.

      If they keep calling then report it to the police.

  5. Alex Brett

    All sounds good in theory...

    ...until you realise that a lot of Communication Providers (CPs) who offer local numbering have to have a block in every area code, and given restrictions due to the traditional telco's equipment not being able to cope with smaller, some of these blocks are 10,000 numbers big. This means that for a provider with the smallest possible block in every area code they end up having an annual bill of £400,000 (if they were to charge for every area code, which I'm sure will be the next step).

    If they charged based on numbers actually in use, or only charged if the provider couldn't cope with a smaller block (i.e. give the companies whose equipment needs updating a financial incentive to do so) then it might be OK, but as is it's just going to put smaller CPs out of business...

  6. Test Man
    Thumb Up

    To be fair...

    ... I don't know of anyone who even dials numbers, let alone omitting the area code, even on landlines.

  7. M Gale


    How could you possibly confuse a land line with a mobile number? Even if the mobile phone itself is in the same room as the landline with the same number. That's like saying that the phone system could confuse a number from Kendal, Cumbria with the same number from Fobbing, Essex.

    In any case, if numbers are becoming scarce, surely the answer is either to add an extra digit to the local number or split the place into two area codes? I'm no phone engineer, but asking someone to dial 01... to call their next door neighbour seems a little retarded. Especially when mobiles are all 07 anyway.

    1. Phil Endecott Silver badge

      Re: To be fair...

      > I don't know of anyone who even dials numbers

      Huh? So, say I want to call Example Ltd. I look at Example Ltd.'s web site, click on "contact us", and it shows a phone number. I pick up my phone and dial that number.

      Tell me, how can I avoid doing that?

      1. NogginTheNog

        Browse from your mobile

        Then, on the web page you select the number and then hit the dial button, and many smartphones will call that number for you, without you having to ever get your digits 'dirty' doing anything as old-fashioned as actually DIALING :-O

      2. King Jack


        Get the person sitting next to you to dial it.

    2. kevjs

      Its quite simple really - it saves businesses in the area a lot of money and confusion.

      For example, at the moment Bournemouth University has the number 01202 524111 - under OFCOM's Bournemouth will get around 200,000 new numbers and therefore the University will not need to make any changes to letterhead, signage, websites or anything else. The only difference is that people in Bournemouth will now need to call 01202 524111 instead of 524111.

      If on the other hand Bournemouth was to get a new code the number would change to 023 2524111 nationally and 2524111 locally (for example) requiring significant expense of all business in the Bournemouth area.

      All I can say is that I am glad all the numbers on our phone system at work include the area code should this change come nationally.

      1. M Gale


        Forgot about the zeros and ones.

        Still, an extra 200,000 doesn't seem like a massive amount. It seems more like delaying the inevitable, whereas adding an extra digit or an extra area (or STD, or whatever you want to call it) code is going to mean no more new livery required for a much longer period, no?

    3. Fred Goldstein

      Smaller-block pooling helped in the US

      Unlike the UK, the US has a fixed-format numbering plan, 3-3-4 digits everywhere. Providers used to be assigned whole 10,000-number prefix-code blocks (NPA-NXX-xxxx), and that led to massive area code exhaust and splitting/overlays. So they went to pooling, where providers get 1000 numbers at a time (NPA-NXX-Dxxx). This has hugely helped, and new area codes are rarely created any more. Carriers have to give back any blocks, after the first one in a rate center, that are <10% full. These blocks are recycled to carriers who need them.

      It's all done via the number portability system. A pooled block is essentially 1000 pre-ported numbers. A "contaminated" block (recycled with <10% used but some numbers in service) leaves its existing numbers in place. It works pretty well. So perhaps the UK can move to smaller block assignments.

      1. Robert A. Rosenberg

        US Areacodes

        As noted US Phone numbers are NPA-EXC-NNNN. EXC is exchange which is of the from XYY where X=2-9 and Y is 0-9 (the first Y was originally 2-9 to avoid being confused with the NPA Area Codes. NPA (The area code) is of the form of XYZ where X=2-9, Y=0-8, and Z is 0-9. Y was originally 0 or 1 but was extended to allow 2-8. 9 is reserved for when they run out of area codes at which time XYZ will become X9YZ. Once a designated Permissive dialing period is over (during with you can dial the area code as 3 digits (XYZ) or 4 (X9YZ - the 9 acting as a flag that this is a 4 digit area code) additional 4 digit area codes will use 2-8 in the second position. BTW: The restriction on 9 prevented the issuance to New York City of area code 692 (ie: NYC).

        NYC is one of the few areas where 10/11-Digit dialing is required due to the use of Overlay Area Codes (the assigning of the more than one area code to the same geographic area). The 1 can be omitted if you are dialing a number with the same area code as you have but can be used even in this case.

        In most cases when an area code runs out of numbers there is an area code split where part of the area code gets to keep its old while the rest gets a new area code. Who gets to keep their old area code is based on who makes the best case for not being inconvenienced (or pays the most money under the table to the agency in charge of deciding who keeps the area code). The idea of just going the overlay route by mapping the new area code over the area covered by the old one is not allowed (except in NYC), as is the "inconvenience everyone" method of assigning 2 area codes and retiring the old one to be reissued later when the pool is almost all assigned.

        1. Fred Goldstein

          Overlays are now the norm

          Area code splits are less common in the US now, and overlays are becoming the norm for expansion. The special case in NYC is that 917 was originally an overlay for cellular only, not wireline, and the FCC later banned service-specific overlays. But area codes have split too much, and overlays are far more convenient, even if we have to dial all 10 digits (when not using a speed dial function, of course). In urban areas, the splits got to such small areas that 10-digit calling was too common anyway, just to call the next zone over (notably Los Angeles, which got carved into tiny geographic areas before the California PUC finally got a clue).

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      number portability

      Blows that "10K numbers" theory right out of the water.

  8. Tony S


    Would it not be easier to split some of the exchanges where this is an issue? Not all potential exchange numbers are in use by a long way, and although it might be a bit of a learning issue for some people, it would seem a bit better than what they are proposing. (They did this in Springfield in one Simpsons episode - built a massive wall around the posh area code to keep out the riff raff)

    As for not charging people national rates when they dial the full national number - forgive my cynicism but HAH! That will work without anyone getting overcharged (I don't think!)

    1. Fuzz

      Already happens

      "As for not charging people national rates when they dial the full national number - forgive my cynicism but HAH! That will work without anyone getting overcharged (I don't think!)"

      This system is already in place and works, I live in Manchester dial code is 0161. I can dial 01204 (Bolton), 01457 (Glossop), 01565 (Kutsford) and a few others and they are counted as local calls.

      If you dial same area without using the dialling code, the billing software assumes the dialling code. In the same way that from your mobile you can dial your numbers starting with +44 but you don't get charged for an international call.

      1. Tony S


        I'm not saying that it won't work - just that I rather suspect there will be a few bills (possibly more than a few) with charging errors that slip through the net and if no-one spots the mistake, then there is no need to correct it.

        OK, I'm miserable, cynical, grumpy old sod. So sue me 8-)

        AFAIK, the national charging is not done totally by exchange code. It may have changed, but there was a distance factor involved from the calling exchange to the receiving exchange which placed them in charging groups. I'm pretty sure that the exchanges that you quote are all within the same charging group.

        But I could be wrong...

        1. deadlift

          Local can be far

          I live in the arse end of south London but my sister lives in St Albans, quite some distance away. However, 020 and 01727 are adjacent area codes, so it's a local call.

  9. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    An odd fix

    Numbers have been squeezed many times before and every time in the past we've just split area codes (like when London's "01" code was abolished) or added another digit to the length of the "local" part of the number. Either of these strategies adds *far* more possible numbers than what is proposed here, so presumably we've hit some terrible IPv4-like technical limit on the address space.

    Anyone here know the details?

    1. Fuzz

      Very odd

      surely the solution is to move a digit from the code to the local number.

      Bournemouth is currently 01202, just remove the last 2, prefix all numbers in Bournemouth with a 2 and suddenly you have an extra 8000000 or so numbers. Forcing the dialling of the area code only seems to create 100000 extra numbers.

      1. Phil Endecott Silver badge

        Re: Very odd

        > Bournemouth is currently 01202, just remove the last 2, prefix

        > all numbers in Bournemouth with a 2 and suddenly you have an

        > extra 8000000 or so numbers.

        No, that doesn't work. You're proposing new numbers like "0120 3123456", right? Unfortunately that number already exists as "01203 123456", in Bolton or somewhere.

        It would be necessary to use a new code, e.g. 02XY.

      2. kevjs

        Nice idea, except

        01200 is used in Clitheroe

        01204 is used in Bolton

        01205 is used in Boston

        01206 is used in Colchester

        01207 is used in Consett

        01208 is used in Bodmin

        01209 is used in Redruth...

        The funny thing here is that Bournemouth originally had 0(1)201 and 0(1)202....

      3. janster

        Sadly, people are too dim to get this.

        Cardiff, for example, went from (01222) xxx xxx to (029) xxxx xxxx. All the old 6-digit local numbers got prefixed with a '20' to make them 8 digits in length. e.g. (01222) 872087 became (029) 2087 2087. Perfectly logical, releasing massive new capacity and also retaining a single area code with local dialling (albeit 8 digits instead of 6).

        Unfortunately, huge sections of the population misinterpreted this as the 'code' changing from 01222 to 02920 and you routinely see people writing their number as (02920) 123456 etc. Problem with that being that it's ingrained in people's minds that 02920 = Cardiff and they then get confused by newer numbers that don't start (029) 20xx xxxx.

        That means you end up with massive misidalling as people see an unfamiliar new number like 029 2111 2111 and then either dial it as (02920) 2111 2111 or "correct" it to 029 2011 2111 - both leading to a wrong number.

  10. My Alter Ego

    I'm sure I'm being thick

    But how can the network get confused when I dial a 6 digit number which doesn't start with a zero from my landline, Surely a lack of area code should default to the originating area code.

    If I dial my home number sans area code from my mobile nothing happens. Likewise, if I dial my mobile number sans prefix the call isn't connected.

    Saying that, whenever I dial a local number from a landline, I always add then prefix. No idea why, I don't do it when I'm back in Ireland.

    More information please?

    1. Chad H.


      That is how it works now - but its that 0 at the start that causes isues.

      Allowing local numbers that don't begin with a 0 to connect would advantage and disadvantage certain people. People who have a local number beginning with 0 would always need the area code otherwise noone could reach them; people will forget, businesses with an 0 local number may lose business as people struggle to reach them (leaving off the area code because it works everywhere else).

      Easier just to enforce one rule for everyone, and that way every numbers on a level playing field.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Offcom - slamming the stable door since 1990

    "London needs 071 because ... sorry we mean 0171 ... I mean 020 ...."

    Dear Ofcom

    Look up 'exponential' in a dictionary and plan accordingly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      01 ?

      I might be showing my age, but you've missed a step, London used to be 01, like the Saturday Swap Shop - 01 811 8055 ... although you might have missed that because maybe Buzby was in charge of phones back then :-P

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No I didn't miss a step

        0171 was the first *change* I remember. Hence 1991.

        Buzby may have been in charge ... but I was one of his minions ;)

  12. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Well, put your local code in speed dial, then.

    It may be annoying to dial 01974 123456 every time, but you can cut 01974 down to one button press, probably.

    I haven't touched a real circular dial for a long time although the other day I fondled a phone in a flea-market that had buttons ranged in a circle instead of a grid. But I do punch numbers into a handset one by one, quite often, on a landline - my mobe is pay-as-you-go and is used sparingly.

  13. Steve Evans

    Planning ahead as usual....

    Who remembers London being 01?

    Yup, most of us I guess... Then they ran out of numbers and made it 071 and 081 for inner and outer London (only doubling the numbers available)... Guess what, soon ran out again, so they made it 0171 and 0181 to give them more room and tidy up the scheme...

    Soon ran out, and now it's 0207 and 0208 (catchy for the capital city no?)

    All this in the past 20 years! FFS, give someone who isn't terminally myopic the planning job in future!

  14. AJames

    The hidden financial reason

    The loss of local number dialing has already happened in many other places, and an interesting reason turned out to be at the bottom of why the phone company couldn't make it optional to dial the full number with prefix within the same local. Of course modern phone computers could allow that. But as numbers run out, new customers are forced to take numbers in the new area code. Naturally they will perceive those numbers as having lesser value if people have to dial an extra prefix to reach them. In order to mollify them and keep all prices the same, the phone company forces everyone else to dial an unnecessary prefix too. Sort of like the theater making people who came early and got a seat close to the stage watch the play through the wrong end of binoculars so that they will be equal with latecomers sitting too far back

    1. janster

      020 for London

      No, it's not "0207 and 0208" for London and never has been.

      The whole point of the year 2000 changes for London was to increase capacity and move the city back from two separate codes with 7-digit local numbers to a single area code of 020 and 8 digit numbers. Swapping 0171 for 0207 and 0181 for 0208 would have achieved nothing.

      Prior to 2000 you had:

      (0171) 200 0000 through to (0171) 998 9999 for inner London


      (0181) 200 0000 through to (0181) 998 9999 for outer London

      Total: 2x 7,990,000 = 15,980,000 numbers

      From 2000 London has been able to use:

      (020) 2000 0000 through to (020) 9989 9999

      Total: 79,900,000 numbers

      So far, only numbers beginning with 3, 7 or 8 are in use.

      The small added bonus is that now London is back to a single area code, you can dial any regular (020) landline number from any other with just eight digits.

  15. kain preacher Silver badge


    You think thats bad . Here were I live some times I have to add a 1 to the area code IE 1-510-xxxx . Some times I don't . If I'm lucky I'll here it is not necessary to dial 1 for this number , other times the call gets misdirected.

  16. Graham Marsden

    I use Call 1899...

    ... so I dial a prefix and then the full "national" number, no matter what.

    It's not really that hard, especially when you've got the prefix and your most commonly called numbers on speed dial!

  17. Gary 24

    It was bad enough....

    when live and kicking changed their number from 0818118181 to 01818118181

  18. Wanda Lust

    Clackedy, clack

    The UK's whole stupid numbering scheme was predicated on ancient clackedy-clackedy mechanical switching systems and when the system transitioned through various stored program control systems such diversity became less and less necessary.

    Of course, the legacy scheme gave the operator the means for charging on an area code basis: the more areas your call traversed, the more it cost. Anyone, recall linked number schemes where local, adjacent areas had a short 9- code.

    Transitioning to 2 digit area codes & 8 digit numbers (Cardiff, N. Ireland, etc) helped & they should've kept going with that but the previous mimicing of the US 800 free "area code" format has rendered a whole scope of numbers unusable for general use.

    Given the current technology there should, of course, be a flat rate for calling within the country but, hey, then BT wouldn't make any money & that's the game.

    Maybe there's a reason why it was called STD, just as hard to get rid of as a dose of herpes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I miss the clackedy clackedy clack

      You knew something was happening with your phone call - it had a purposeful sound.

      Mind you, that's the same way that a steam locomotive sounds better than a diesel (Deltics excluded?) . Sounds better but not necessarily better.

      "Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon" - how about some variety in anonymous coward icon then?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I can not understand why this is supposed to help. Presently if an area code isn't dialled the local one is assumed. After this scheme is introduced apparently an area code has to be explicitly entered. How does that increase the pool of available numbers ?

    By the way, would appreciate it if the idiocy of the pink sign was removed. Someone bored and looking to amuse themselves ? Or just hoping to get folk fed up with the site, and not come here to comment any more, maybe.

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