Goodbye to the humble phone number

Goodbye to the humble phone number?

Following recent studies, the UK’s telecoms watchdog Ofcom has speculated whether we are seeing the end of the use of phone numbers. According to their figures the UK made a total of 103 billion minutes on the landline in 2012 but just six years later that had fallen to 54 billion.

What’s more, mobile call minutes have increased from 132.1 billion to 148.6 billion over the same period. Meanwhile, the average monthly mobile data used has soared from 0.2 gigabytes to 1.9 gigabytes.

One of the factors behind the trend is generational. Ofcom’s research confirmed that younger people prefer the use of messaging services, such as WhatsApp, rather than their phones to actually talk. By contrast older people still prefer to have a chat.

Thanks to mobile technology we don’t now have to remember phone numbers, relying instead on contact lists. So, it’s now common-place to click on a name or web link on your mobile to call a number, rather than the old-fashioned way of manually dialling.

This generational gap has manifested itself in our knowledge of area codes. It seems young people don’t even know that area codes have a geographic significance. Often mistaking them for other numbers thinking they are nuisance callers or call centres.

In contrast older people recognise what an area code is and trust the codes local to them. They are considered to be helpful and reassuring, particularly when searching for local businesses.

So, what does the future hold for the humble phone call? In the years ahead, we will see more and more calls being made over broadband rather than through traditional telephone lines. And, what’s more broadband-based call technology doesn’t need the use of area codes.

Some of us remember a time when we stored phone numbers in our head, rather than our mobile. But the way we use and feel about telephone numbers is changing.

In the future, as more calls are made over broadband, dialling codes won’t need to be fixed to a particular part of the country. So, the question is, could area codes become a thing of the past.

- Liz Greenberg: Head of Numbering, Ofcom

Ofcom has already begun to look at how UK landline telephone numbers could be managed better, including the use of blockchain technology. This, it is hoped could make it easier and quicker for landline customers to switch providers while keeping their number. And could reduce the number of nuisance calls.

There are 1.3 billion landline phone numbers in the UK, 400 million of which are currently allocated to telecoms operators. Ofcom’s role includes allocating phone numbers and keeping an eye on how they’re used.


A veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.
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