Ofcom could abolish geographic area codes

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Ofcom has launched three consultations that will determine the future of how landline phone numbers as the market transitions from analogue to IP-based communications and how all numbers (including mobile) are regulated.

One proposal is the creation of a common database of phone numbers. This, Ofcom argues, will allow operators to and identify nuisance callers and would also allow consumers and businesses to easily move their number when they change provider.

But the biggest change could see an overhaul of area codes as traffic shifts from landline networks onto over-the-top applications.

Landline future

In 2012, the UK made 103 billion minutes of calls but in 2017 this had fallen by around half to 54 million. The number of voice minutes rose modestly from 131.1 billion to 148.6 billion during the same period, while the average monthly data consumption increased from 0.2GB to 1.9GB.

Ofcom acknowledges that older generations value conversation and the confidence that a local number inspires in a business but says younger people don’t enter phone numbers and instead use contacts applications to make calls.

Area codes came into effect in the 1950s and were originally formed composed of ‘01’ followed by two digits determined by the location and another digit. For example, Aberdeen is ‘01224’ because ‘AB’ is ‘22’ on an alphanumeric keypad.

However, the growth in the number of users has seen a number of changes to this system – most notably the use of 02 numbers in major cities like London – and future changes could be on the horizon.

Ofcom’s consultation is inviting views on what changes, if any, should be made to the system and whether future codes should include geographical information.

The final consultation concerns interconnection. At present, landline operators charge each other for connecting calls between their networks. These charges are controlled by Ofcom, which wants to understand how the shift to Internet calling will affect its regulatory policy.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.