Oftel says number's up already for the Phoneday codes

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The Independent Online

Industrial Correspondent

A fresh overhaul of the nation's telephone numbers has been proposed by the telecommunications watchdog, Oftel, two months after the Phoneday change which gave numbers an extra "1".

Among the suggestions are new regional codes beginning "02" and, in London, scrapping the 0171 and 0181 codes in favour of a single 010.

Oftel said that London, Cardiff, Belfast, Portsmouth, Reading and Southampton could run out of numbers in five years. Reading, the most urgent case, will need action by next year.

Don Cruickshank, director general of Oftel, stressed that the consultation document on numbers, issued yesterday, intends to give customers choice rather than impose unwanted change.

However, BT, which spent pounds 100m on Phoneday in April, was surprised. A spokesman said: "The last thing we want for our customers is any unnecessary disruption. We doubt the regional 02 scheme would be popular. We also question whether another wholesale change is necessary in London."

Phoneday saw the introduction of geographic numbers based on a leading zero plus 10 digits starting with "1". It opened up the possibility of 8,000 million extra numbers for the future.

Mr Cruickshank said the consultation will end on 25 August. "Our guiding principle will be to cause minimum disruption. But we must remember the demand for new numbers comes from customers."