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How is your mobile phone number decided?

The world's first mobile phone call was made in 1973 by Martin Cooper on the streets of New York City. He called Joel Engel, a man who was working for a rival communications company at the time and who Martin thought of as his antagonist. He said,

"Joel, this is Marty. I'm calling you from a cellphone, a real, handheld, portable cellphone."

At the other end of the line, there was only silence. Marty suspected that Joel was gritting his teeth with envy.

Skip to a decade later and mobile phones became the ultimate 80's yuppie status symbol – and certainly had a price tag to match. In 1984 the first mobile phone was launched and would have set you back a massive $3,995 which, accounting for inflation, would be more like $9,000 in today's money.

Nowadays, mobile phones are ubiquitous, with over 82.7 million mobile subscriptions in the UK alone. 94% of UK adults now own one and 15% of households in Britain have no landline telephone, relying on mobiles as their main means of communication.

So with more mobile phones than people in this country, how are these millions of individual telephone numbers decided and assigned to the public?


Photo By: Milica Sekulic

UK National Telephone Numbering Plan

Under the UK's Communications Act (2003) the government's office of Communications (AKA Ofcom) were given the very important responsibility of coming up with the methods for allocating all telephone numbers in Britain.

Known as the UK National Telephone Numbering Plan, Ofcom allocates telephone providers with a block of numbers, which they can then give to their customers. Normally these numbers are given in blocks of ten thousand for geographically specific numbers, but for mobile numbers and other non-geographic numbers the numbers are allocated upon request.

07xxx xxxxxx Mobile Numbers

Every mobile phone company is each allocated a different range of telephone numbers that all start with "07."

Since the Big Number Change, which started just before the year 2000, when the mobile industry was beginning to boom, mobile phone numbers have been allocated according to these combinations. In summary;

  • Vodafone phone numbers start with "07770" "07774", "07778" or "07785"
  • O2 (formally known as BT Cellnet) begin with "078" or "077"
  • T-Mobile (formally known as One2One) numbers begin with "079"
  • EE (previously Orange) phone numbers start with "07966" "07973" and "07976"

Future of Phone Number Allocation

Of course, there are only a certain number of possible 11-digit combinations, which makes telephone numbers a finite as well as vital resource.

In order to meet increased phone number demand, Ofcom has to ensure that the system is flexible enough to incorporate the needs of new communications technologies, such as VOIP services.

In 2006 Ofcom outlined a plan for the future of telephone number allocation, which includes the following measures;

  • Create a country wide '03' number range which can be used for national numbers and mobiles that would be charged at the same rate as your standard geographic, area code, landline telephone number.
  • Introduce a new 06 number which can be used for personalised number services. At the moment these combinations start with "070" which many people confuse with a mobile phone number. The "06" combination therefore is designed to remove confusion and prevent phone scams.
  • Simplify the "08" range so that the number that follows the "08" will indicate the estimated price of the phone call. For instance, if the number starts with "082" then consumers will know that the call rates will be reasonably cheap compared to a 089 combination.
  • Services that start with "09" will work in the same way.

In conclusion, the way your mobile phone number was decided required careful planning on the part of Ofcom. Only time will tell how phone number combinations will develop as more and more of us convert to mobile as our main means of communication. In the meantime, take a look at this just for fun link that makes up a list of anagrams that match your telephone digits.

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