Directory inquiry system is in a right 118

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The Independent Online

Just when you thought the new directory inquiries system couldn't get more baffling, it just did.

The bewildering array of new 118-prefixed numbers that were introduced at midnight to replace the old 192 were accompanied by an equally bewildering array of 0800 freephone numbers designed to provide information on how to use the new system.

Every phone network has its own freephone number which contains its own recorded message giving advice on which 118 number to call. But nobody is quite sure what those numbers are.

Oftel, the communications watchdog, refused yesterday to give out any of the freephone advice numbers in advance because it feared that would fuel the confusion.

The numbers vary depending on which network you are calling from. Each has its own recording for technical reasons. It would therefore be confusing to publish them, said an Oftel spokeswoman last night.

How many companies will eventually operate the new numbers remains unclear. More than 80 numbers have been allocated by Oftel.

The average cost of a 118 call will vary between 20p and 60p, although there are different tariffs for connection charges and for the first minute of a call. Mobile phone rates vary too.

"Competitionwill hopefully lead to a cheaper service," said Jenni Conti of the Consumers' Association.