On Friday, Ofcom published its statement on the future of telephone numbers. Having previously consulted on the matter, the regulator has taken the decision to alter the rules that administer the use of phone numbers in the country, with an aim to ensure these consider the wide array of changes occurring throughout the UK’s networks, in addition to promoting consumer confidence in phone services.
While acknowledging that phone calls play an essential role across various businesses, Ofcom has also stated that the way everybody use phones is beginning to change. With the use of landline phones decreasing substantially as a result of online and mobile communications increases, the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is being phased out and is being gradually replaced. As we already know, calls via landline phone will be transferred to Internet Protocol (IP) networks before the PSTN ends altogether in December 2025.
Ofcom has been reviewing the National Telephone Numbering Plan – its rulebook for phone numbers in the UK. Having outlined its proposed approach to this review in two consultations in 2019 and 2021, you can find Ofcom’s decisions below.
Maintaining landline phone area codes
The authority will be maintaining current rules on geographic numbering, assigning the beginning digits of a landline phone number to a region, and giving location significance. It’s worth noting that, while IP networks are not mandated to have area codes to route calls just like legacy networks do, this is something that is still appreciated by some businesses and people. Due to this, Ofcom has decided against removing this link.
These rules allow out-of-area use of geographic numbers which it acknowledges gives a significant amount of adaptability in number use for people and businesses.
Removing the obligation on telecoms providers to provide local dialling
As local dialling enables individuals to call a landline (from a landline) within the same area without needing to dial in the area code first, Ofcom is removing the necessity to give local dialling on landline phone services altogether. This is because Ofcom believes the value of this requirement to consumers has reduced significantly, and because it is particularly difficult to provide over IP networks. It believes that providers will be increasingly likely to remove this facility as they support consumers moving to IP services.
Ofcom has laid bare its expectations for procedures that providers should take when dismantling local dialling to alleviate any risk of uncertainty or danger for their consumers. These include:
• Communicating details of the change to local dialling with other communications provided to consumers about the migration
• Considering their requirements under General Condition C5 in relation to vulnerable consumers and end-users with disabilities
• Mitigating potential confusion or harm to customers
A new and amended version of Ofcom’s Numbering Plan has been published to bring into effect its decision to completely remove the requirement on telecoms providers to provide local dialling. As such, Ofcom will be paying close attention to providers’ plan to remove local dialling, as well as their plans to let consumers know about this change.
As part of Ofcom’s Second Consultation on geographic numbering, Ofcom suggested altering the Numbering Plan to disable the sharing of revenue with calling parties. Due to this, Ofcom is considering responses it received and will inform stakeholders about its next steps in due course.
Finally, Ofcom states that it will continue to review its Numbering Plan, including reviewing the future role that 084 and 087 non-geographic numbers play.