Industry regulator Ofcom said it is facing a drought in numbers and is looking at several ways to tackle a possible shortage including rationing and the introduction of a new tranche of codes.
In a consultation paper, it raised the prospect of introducing so-called “overlay” codes — a second code that would operate alongside the existing code.
Such a move, similar to London sharing 0207 and 0208 but for the regions, would make the traditional link between areas and codes a thing of the past.
It could also trigger anger among businesses and personal users fed up with the chaos and expense of having to constantly change letterheads.
According to Ofcom the present drought in numbers has been caused by factors including a surge in the number of new telephone companies and the tendency of companies to “stockpile” numbers, leaving them unused but unavailable.
For now Ofcom is seeking to ease strain on the system by bringing in “number conservation” measures — namely, restricting the issue of numbers to telephone companies to blocks of 1,000, instead of 10,000, as at present.
The measures and the prospects of number rationing has brought a swift response with Dave Breith, CEO at O-bit Telecom commenting, “Ofcom’s number rationing is simply another sign of its incompetence. It was only a few years ago that Ofcom was forced to reorganise its numbering system, yet we are fast approaching the same situation.
Ofcom needs to realise that its inability to implement a future proof system of telephone number generation has cost businesses millions of pounds. Setting up a new number is a big upheaval, and the cost of informing customers and updating stationery and websites is something that most businesses can simply do without.
Until Ofcom can come up with a system that won’t require businesses to change their phone numbers, we will keep experiencing this sense of déjà vu. Maybe it should take the time to actually discuss a solution with the telecoms industry? After all, they’re the ones who sell these services on a day to day basis, and are in the best place to come up with a solution that won’t affect existing numbers.”