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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The point is that phone numbers aren't just an 11 digit string processed by a database lookup. The digits are processed and interpreted sequentially. For example, (01202) 391234 isn't interpreted in one go: 01202 39 would be enough to route to BT's exchange in Boscombe, where further processing on the rest of the number takes place.

When you start dialling on a landline, the first digit has a special significance and tells the system what to do next:

0 means "this is going to be an area code or international call"

1 means "this will be a short code, like the operator on 100"

2,3,4,5,6,7,8 or 9 means "this will be a local call"

In Bournemouth, you could dial (01202) 234567 as just "234567". As you've started with a "2", the system can easily spot it's a local number and knows to expect 5 more digitis. Remember, there's no "send" or "call" button on a normal landline so the system needs such information to know what length number to expect to identify when you have finished dialling.

Now imagine the number (01202) 020722 is issued. If you dialled 020722 locally, that leading 0 suggests to the system you're making a long distance call and it would just sit there forever waiting for you to dial the next 5 digits.

Likewise, what about (01202) 123456? If you dialled that as simply 123456, you'd be connected to the speaking clock as soon as you'd got as far as dialing "123".

Requiring the area code removes those kinds of clashes.

Of course, it's still a big bodge job. Odds are this will only see us through a few more years before they have to find more numbers for Bournemouth, Brighton, MK, etc. I guess Ofcom would rather dodge the bad press of a futureproof number change and leave somebody else to sort out the inevitable mess ten years down the road!

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Wait, hold on..

The USA manages with 10 digit numbers and they haven't run out.

Something's fishy here.

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We haven't run out... there are millions and millions of spare numbers - just not within the current area codes. In the case of Bournemouth, usable numbers beginning 01202 are running out.

There are plenty of spares elsewhere: you could give Bournemouth a batch of numbers starting 01660, or you could renumber the place to use seven digit numbers and a shorter area code e.g. (0119) xxx xxxx. However, Ofcom believes that people want to stick with their familiar area codes, rather than see several different area codes covering the same area or getting caught up in renumbering.

The USA and Canada have been using a different strategy - they just issue extra area codes for the same area when numbers run out. So, New York originally had the area code 212 and 7-digit local numbers. Over the years it's evolved to the point where a New York number could start with any of six different codes: 212, 718, 917, 347, 646 and 929.

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WTF?

RE: The USA manages with 10 digit numbers and they haven't run out.

Now hold on there!

The North American Numbering Plan (NANP) area includes Canada, Hawaii and some portions of the Caribbean. There is some concern that in the 2030's we (North America) will need to deal with number exhaustion. How that will be accomplished without serious pain is up for grabs.

Also, in the US, there are areas where local numbers are only 7 digits, some areas where the local number is 10 digits (3 digit area code + local number). Then you have a few oddball cases where you have to dial 1 + a local number (8 digits) for some calls. Then of course, you have the 1 + 10 digit long distance dialing.

Where I live, several years back, the area code began to run out of numbers, and the choice was splitting the area code, or 10 digit dialing. The people demanded splitting the area code. The thought of having to dial 10 digits for a local call pissed off a lot of people.

In other areas, it was 10 digit dialing that was either desired (or imposed by some entity).

Simply put, for you guys, trying to emulate the US 'solution' may be an example of a serious clusterfuck - one you may wish to avoid.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmmm

For some bizarre reason I have been doing this for the last few years. When I call my old man, who only lives about a mile away, I dial the whole number including the area code. I just find it easier to remember long phone numbers than short ones.

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@Offcom - slamming the stable door since 1990

I don't think they studied maths.

We are running out of numbers - so we will prefix all numbers with an extra '1'

Oh dear that didn't help, lets try prefxing all the new numbers with a 2

...... and so on .....

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Can't you just make longer numbers?

Seriously, there are systems like in the US where you have fixed number lengths. In Germany on the other hand, you can have numbers of different length. For example I company I've once seen had the number 3, a branch of Siemens once had 7. Someone in our vilage had a 4 digit phone number while we had a 5 digit and I have a 6 digit one.

Actually there's one funny fact in the German phone systems. As you might know, after the separation of east Germany, it was clear that the re-unification was imminent. That's why the 09... area codes were set aside for East Germany. The codes were regional and were based on the routing structure. However in the 1970s nobody believed in the re-unification anymore. That'S why the 09... area codes were re-assigned to northern Bavaria.

After the reunification they had no normal area codes left. However by then the Network was largely digital and they could just assign part of the Berlin area code to those new areas.

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Meh

Adding a digit before the title...

Be glad you don't have to dial an IPV6 number... yet.

Around here they just added another digit and presto, 9 times the available numbers. Yeah, 9... (or 8?) everybody that had 7 digits got a 3 prior to their previous number. Nothing really fancy, and no need to use the whole area code either. And that capacity bump worked for *each* area code.

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Anonymous Coward

Lower costs for local calls?

"I can dial 01204 (Bolton), 01457 (Glossop), 01565 (Kutsford) and a few others and they are counted as local calls."

Really ?

Which telco are you with?

Most tariffs on most telcos got rid of local calls many many years ago. I'd say all, except I've not checked on magsys tariff list for a while.

Have local call rates been resurrected?

ps re "Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon"

Anonymous not because of cowardice but because the message is more important than the messenger.

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ABC

"The price of calls for Joe Public won't be affected by either of the new measures."

That's nice for Joe, but what about the rest of us?

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Anonymous Coward

Wow! The title is now Optional!

Which is much more exciting than all of this stuff about phone numbers :)

(Or does it mean I'm connected to some some Turkish hacker?)

Anyway (get on with it!) what I came here to say was...

OK, I can see why the whole of London, for example, got to have so many telephones that 01 nnn nnnn just didn't cut it any longer, but that's UK's biggest city, and vastly bigger than the runners up.

So what's this about certain areas in which numbers are scarce?

Probably a stupid question.

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Alien

local dialing and indeed concerns about the number/area code etc redundant thesedays

The local call system predates the use of electronicly stored number/name access as you have with mobiles and alot of home phones. The user picks the contact via name and not via number which is for all effect beyond initial contact setup utterly transparant with regards to there concerns in making a call from a stored contact.

Now that all said the only people this will effect will be in general older people who already have a local exchange number/dialing code. Those are the people effected - but there not the types who would be reading this forum or indeed internets as a whole. Though I'm sure BT et all will adress this with the ability for the small sum of £1 a month to default to a local number if a area code isn't dialed. But then are we supprised.

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Boffin

Businesses use up large blocks of numbers

In ye olde days, when a business could afford a receptionist, a company would "own" a single telephone number but perhaps half a dozen overflow lines as well. Customers would dial in using the advertised telephone number, but because of the use of overflow lines, six (in this example) different customer calls could be handled simultaneously. The receptionist would transfer the calls to anyone of the let us say 30 internal telephone lines.

Now we shall come upto date. The company has sacked the receptionist and moved onto direct dialling. So the 6 lines still exist but they now handle 30 different telephone numbers. These extra numbers are purchased in blocks - and in our example, 100 numbers reserved for 30 direct dial numbers. So ye olde company used 1 telephone number and now it uses up 100 telephone numbers.

Pedants among you will want to add fax numbers - but they are just nit picking, like those of you who blame the use of extra telephone numbers on adsl only connections.

Come to think of it, it's the same problem as ip (v4) addresses

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People, not businesses

Yes, what you say is true, but sadly is a red herring. Ultimately telephone numbers are all about people, not companies.

The company I work for employs 13,000 people in the UK. So it will need 13,000 telephone numbers. OK, a few more because some people might do different work at different times of day and the company might want them to have different numbers for their different roles. And some of those 13,000 (around a quarter, perhaps) will be mobile workers and will need a mobile number.

But the point is, each and every telephone number in the UK is ultimately linked to a PERSON; be it landline, mobile, fax, ADSL, smartphone, iPad, emergency panic alarm, etc.

And I've tried and tried but cannot see how any one PERSON would need, or indeed could cope with, more than a dozen or so phone numbers. And remember roughly half of our 60 million population are children or elderly, who will be content with one or two numbers.

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FAIL

I can see a problem here...

I know that some carriers are already using numbers beginning with 1 or 0 for use "within" their network. (i.e. not meant to be seen by customers) So all these extra numbers that OFCOM think they're going to get don't exist.

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I might be a freak...

I never used to remember actual phone numbers, I memorized the thumb movements on the keypad. If someone asked me for a number, I'd have to imagine tapping it out.

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Pint

Don't forget the new number for Police, Fire or Ambulance...

It's easy to remember too!!!

0118999881999725 3

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IT Angle

unfortunatly...

That number wont get you the emergency services.

But this one will!

0118 999 881 999 119 725 3

IT? as in IT crowd

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Holmes

Sweet the title is finaly optional! I now have wood....

The main issue I can see is useless DDI purchaseing, I know of one (large) company who has a 10 person office but baught the whole DDI range from the telco I was working for at the time, lots and lots of places just really don't need the whole range available.

It would free up numbers and also make things a whole lot cheeper.

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Are those my feet?

I live in the Bournemouth 01202 area and this is going to be truly annoying for a lot of locals. Christchurch has the highest proportion of pensioners in Britain and they are going to have a right time of it, they have enough trouble remembering where the local lunch club is let alone a new telephone numbering method. Won't somebody please think of the wrinklies!!

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Ahh I remember those days..

It's funny, but it seems like yesterday when I left the UK, except I can no longer remember the new area codes - which had changed a few years prior to emigrating.

Although the UK is definitely ahead in some things, like digital TV, I still find it amazing that people are charged actual money for local calls. For the person that wonders why they aren't "free" with the monthly rental of a phone line - UK phone providers charge roughly the same as they do in the US for a phone line and still charge local calls.

On the other hand UK carriers don't scam their customers by forcing them to pay for a long distance package and all long distance calls cost the same, unlike the US where usually you pay MORE to call long distance numbers within your own state. UK carriers also don't add imaginary taxes to your phone bill either.

So just like healthcare, its swings and roundabouts. I find it weird that they went this route tho, surely it would have been easier to add an extra digit to phone numbers like they did a couple decades ago.

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Anonymous Coward

DDI, "the dialing sequence" (BadBob)

Posters mentioning mostly-unused DDI have spotted a major part of the problem.

Posters thinking along BadBob's lines ("As soon as you start to input the numbers on an ordinary telephone, the dialling sequence commences in order to speed up the call connection.") need to get a clue about how the switching side of telephone systems work (and have worked for decades).

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Anonymous Coward

If we're all so clueless, perhaps you could enlighten us?!

There will be all types of switching technology in use by different operators, especially once you move away from local exchanges and deeper into the network. But the leading digit retains a significance and during the original Ofcom consultation on this all the major fixed-line operators confirmed that local numbers starting '0' and '1' would clash with area codes and short codes under current dialling arrangements.

By further way of proof, have you tried dialling an unallocated block of numbers locally? For example, in our area, the block of 6-digit local numbers beginning "223" is unused and not allocated to any telephone company. If I dial 2-2-3, my call fails immediately that I press that "3". Ergo, the exchange I am connected to *must* be analysing my number and applying logic to it as soon as I start dialling - even if it doesn't complete routeing until I dial the final digit.

The key problem is not switching anyway, so much as how you'd get exchanges to distinguish between local number 012345 and Bedford (01234) 5xxxxx without ending every number dialled with a "send" button as on mobiles. You could set a timeout, but that has its own problems: do you slow down connection time by waiting 3 or 4 seconds to see if any more digits will be dialled, or do you choose a very short timeout and risk misdials by people who dial slowly?

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Decision tree

Telephone switching is a decision tree. You dial '2', the switching system takes it and sees there are more switches to follow, so waits for a another digit. You dial another '2' and the '22' switch sits there waiting for another digit. You dial '3' and the switchin unit connects you to the "number unobtainable" destination.

Alternatively, you don't dial '3', you dial '4' (for example, if this is a used range) and the switching system sits there waiting for another digit. You dial another digit. It switches you though to either the next switch, or the number unobtainable destination. And so one until it's got to a destination.

Unused blocks switch to Number Unobtainable as soon as you've dialed enough digits to identify that block. In Sheffield if I dial '6' I get NU immediately. Only '0', '1', '2', '3' and '9' switch through to another level.

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Yes but...

Yes, very interesting. And I'm certainly NOT having a go at you personally, J.G.Harston.

But the telephone was invented in the 19th century. I suspect decision tree switching was also introduced in the 19th century. Many of us now live in the 21st century. A full 135 years since the telephone was invented.

It doesn't have to be like this. The world has changed enormously in the last 135 years. OFCOM really should be making some bold decisions to move UK telephony, at least into the 20th century, if not into the 21st century.

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France did this around 15 years ago.

Or was it longer? I can't remember.

All our numbers are 10 digits .

(Well, 9 really, all but special numbers start with a zero).

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Stop

everyone's an expert ....

I presume all of you lot are fully qualified carrier-trained telephony network engineers ?

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Luddites

No. I'm not a fully qualified carrier-trained telephony network engineer. And, to be honest, I'm glad I'm not.

But I DO know that our eleven digit telephone numbers give us 100 billion unique numbers. And in a country of around 60 million that should be enough.

The telephone was introduced in the 19th century. We now live in the 21st century. It's about time our 'fully qualified carrier-trained telephony network engineers' joined us.

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Why dont they follow the IP4/IP6 change and give us all really long numbers.

And follow the IT Crowd for the new emergency services number.

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FAIL

DUH!

What is the matter with this country? Every few years we get another number crisis as though it is beyond conception that we would ever need more and the everytime promise is that it will finally solve the problem for once and for all - until the next time...

I'm no comms expert but is it really beyond the wit of people to come up with a sustainable solution?

It's nice having an autodial phone and I agree most people dial by name nowadays but I'm certainly fed up with having to frequently change all my stored numbers which kind of defeats the purpose.

I have been hearing about 'personal' numbers for a while - what's the problem with an unique number? - I've managed to keep my mobile number since the start without a problem and everybody whose ever known me knows my number despite moving several times. I usually find out about my son's phone change by him not being at the number I have because he forgets to tell anyone.

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This reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Springfield was split into two when they introduced area codes. I wonder if Bournemouth too will split into Old Bournemouth and New Bournemouth? :-)

What they need is The Who to go and sort it out.

For me at least, I've not got into the habit of dialing the area code regardless even when dialing a number in the same area code from my home phone.

Rob

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WTF?

First IP adresses, and now phone numbers

Wow, we're really running out of resources in life! Coal, diesel, petrol, then IPV4 addresses, and now telephone numbers?

What next, oxygen?

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It's actually dickwads like these people: http://www.ttnc.co.uk/numbers/list/01947_whitby who are the reason numbers are running out. It's not that the numbers are running out, it's that people are buying up numbers and holding onto the to sell on.

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"writing DBASE IV code to trawl a database and convert 01 codes to 071 / 081"

Ah, yes, must do that sometime.

Just as soon as I get a round tuit.

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One of the reasons numbers are running out is that providers do no reuse them. If providers were actually allowed to use previously deleted numbers there would be lots to go round.

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WTF?

Local number expansion no problem with Siemens

When VietNam decided to modernize it;s POTS system, it decided upon Siemens equipment.

Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh/SaiGon had 04 and 08 as area codes and all the line numbers began with 8 - a lucky number for many here - followed by 5 digits.

Expanding subscriber numbers were accommodated by simply inserting an additional prefix number universally across an area code. Recently we went big time in these major cities maintaining the same area code followed by a new prefix digit (either 2 or 3) plus the former 7 digit, for a line number with 8 digits.

At all times local dialing was possible, i.e. no area code, and because the new numbers were the older, familiar, number plus a new prefix, and inconvenience was minimized. This schema has been used throughout the country with each province retaining it's unique code.

Of course, the secret lies in the flexibility of the switching software.

North America has stuck with it's 7-digit local number plan and now has cities that have two or three different area codes, intermixed rather than by geographic area. Really confusing. The problem started when they allocated cell phones numbers within land area codes - the UK solution of having separate area codes for cell phones is far superior and enables call billing to be implemented.

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Hey wait a minute

The UK doesn't have widespread ISDN anymore as far as I've heard. (some article here recently mentioned that the author couldn't get ISDN)

Now if you need to dial the area code with every number, won't that keep up valuable resources in the switches? I mean every digit is about half a second on analog dialling. So with a zero plus 4 digits, the part decoding the numbers will be, on average, 3 seconds longer in use. Phone operators might need to buy new equipment. (It's less of a problem with ISDN as it's digital and everything can be done with computers instead of electromechanical systems)

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How many numbers do we need?

UK telephone numbers puzzle me. My landline telephone number has eleven digits. That gives (theoretically) one hundred thousand million (100 billion) telephone numbers available for use in the UK.

Or, about 1,650 telephone numbers for each man, woman child and baby in the UK. Or, about 6,500 (yes, six and a half thousand) numbers for a traditional family of mum, dad and two kids.

WTF is going on here? How can we be running out of numbers?

And yes, I realise that existing telephony conventions mean that not all 100 billion are available, but many billions are.

I'm wholeheartedly behind OFCOM's plan to charge 10p per number per year. That'll cost me 60p per year (1x landline, 1x mobile, 1x 'spare' mobile, 1x international SIM, 1x work landline, 1x work mobile). Better still, make it £1 per number per year. Call me a wealthy, extravagant fool if you wish, but I suspect I'll not even notice a 60p (or £6) per year charge in amongst all my other telephony costs.

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Anonymous Coward

But the point is that BT are looking at making you dial the whole number including STD. At the moment you don't dial the STD code, so you don't get all those theoretical numbers. BT are just dealing with the six digit local numbers in this case.

The problem is apparently compounded by the way numbers are allocated to different providers, and to smaller local exchanges and the way calls are routed to these. This effectively means that there are loads of numbers within that range of a million possibilities that are out of bounds to any given provider. Then there are chunks of numbers that get eaten up by big corporate systems. Then add to that the fact that numbers can't be reused for no sensible reason.

So you start with a million possible numbers within a given STD code, but how many of those numbers are available to a particular line in a particular house?

And as you say some number combinations can't be used at all. However if you make the STD code mandatory then suddenly those particular ranges become available. For example, without the STD code 999123 is obviously impossible. With the STD code however 01234999123 would be possible.

The thing that puzzles me is why they can't just add another leading digit as they have done so many times before. Hey, maybe they could think about the future and instead of adding just one digit try two or three this time.

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