New phone numbers delayed until 1995

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PLANS for a new national telephone numbering scheme will be delayed for a year until 1995 because of concern over cost and upheaval for telephone companies and customers.

Oftel, which is pioneering the 10-digit scheme, estimates that it will cost pounds 500m to implement because of the need to reprogramme or replace equipment and some call boxes. This includes management time to cope with change. But it does not include the cost to companies of new signs, literature and letterheads.

The 10-digit scheme will now be introduced on 1 April 1995. It is needed because Britain is running out of codes required by new services, such as cable television operators. Some cities are also running out of local numbers for the existing fixed networks.

The new national numbering scheme will insert a '1' in every number after the leading zero. This allows for many more initial codes without affecting the number for dialling local calls.

But the scheme is a precursor to a much more sweeping change. In future, it will be possible for customers to keep the same number when they move networks. Ultimately, anyone who wants to should be able to keep the same number from cradle to grave, wherever they move in Britain.

Oftel will consult on these options later this year and on changes to the numbers for services including mobile telephones and premium rate calls.

The existing and new schemes will run in parallel for seven months to make the transition as smooth as possible, Oftel said.