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Is the UK running out of phone numbers?

This summer, telecoms watchdog, Ofcom announced that the UK is running out of telephone numbers and revealed that five different areas in the country will see new dialling codes added by October 2014.

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People in Aberdeen, Bradford, Brighton, Middlesbrough and Milton Keynes will all have to get used to dialling a new area code for local calls in order to free up new telephone numbers in other areas where they are running out.

What Ofcom say

A spokesperson from Ofcom said, "The number of communications providers has increased significantly over the last ten years, leading to more competition and cheaper landline bills for millions of homes and businesses. But it has also led to increased pressure on the supply of new phone numbers.”

Ofcom also said that the adding of new area codes to some areas will safeguard the supplies of telephone numbers in the future and prevent the need to change existing ones. Callers will not be charged extra for making local calls under the new system and those who forget to dial without the area code will hear a recorded message prompting them to include it.

Currently, a new dialling code is operating in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole areas and 94% of residents agree that the changes didn’t bother them. But is this measure enough to future-proof the UK’s landline telephone number supply?

How telephone numbers were decided

Last year Ofcom allocated 126 million telephone numbers and they continually monitor demand across the country because there is only a finite number of telephone numbers left.

Since telephone numbers were first introduced in the 1920’s, they have evolved into the 11 digit numbers we know today. When the telephone was a new and expensive item, callers spoke to the operator to get put through to the right address, which meant that you would only need to remember one number, ‘0’ to get through to someone.

In the twenties, a mnemonic solution was then devised, where the first three digits would be replaced by letters to make the seven digit number more memorable, for example TREmont 3106. Up until the 1960’s, this method worked, but as telephones became more popular, more numbers were needed and so the UK adopted the American system which had introduced local area codes into their phonebooks previously.

Find who you’re looking for

There are now around 650 area codes in the UK, based on geographical location. So if, for example, you were looking for a relative’s address and you had their full name and telephone number, White Pages could help you trace their whereabouts, provided they supplied their address details in the edited version of the electoral roll.

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