Millions of phone changes soon

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The Independent Online
PLANS TO change phone numbers of at least 10 million homes and businesses will go ahead in three months because of the shortage of new lines, the telephone regulator, Oftel, said yesterday.

London numbers will be changed from 0171 and 0181 to 0207 and 0208 - the third time they have been revamped in 10 years. Other areas affected from June are Cardiff, Coventry, Portsmouth and Southampton. Oftel says at least 21 other towns and cities are close to running out of numbers and are expected to have new codes phased in by 2012. The new capacity is expected to last until 2015. Parallel running for new numbers for mobiles, pagers and other numbers begins in September.

Oftel said the changes, which come just four years after an extra number one was inserted in all area codes, were required because of the huge growth in telecommunications prompted by fax machines and Internet connections.

Last month, the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee accused Oftel of failing to adequately consult users and said that it was "totally unconvinced" by its arguments.

However, Oftel said yesterday the changeover process would begin in June, with complete changeover coming into force from April 2000.

The director-general of Oftel, David Edmonds, said: "The Trade and Industry Committee asked us to review the proposed changes to the national

numbering scheme and Oftel will submit a full response to the committee in the near future.

"However, it is clear that the scheduled changes to the numbering system must go ahead and it is important for an early decision to remove uncertainty. Oftel's primary aim is to ensure that there is sufficient capacity on the network."