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Local numbers when making a call seem like second nature to us these days. To many of us, it’s hard to think of a time before area codes were shown as they are now.

Area codes were introduced in 1958 back when we were able, for the first time, to call another phone number directly rather than through a manual exchange operator. It then took over 20 years to allocate exchange codes to every exchange in the country, completing this in 1979.

The telephone numbering plan assigns numbers to subscriber telephone networks in the UK. This does change, particularly as telephone users exceed the available number ranges. In recent years areas such as Bournemouth and London surpassed the limit and therefore had to change their area codes to accommodate.

With smartphone ownership increasing and landlines becoming less popular, we spend very little time making or receiving calls from a landline, opting instead to make most of our calls on a mobile. Ofcom research confirms ‘In 2012, the UK made a total of 103 billion minutes of landline calls, but in 2017 that fell to just 54 billion. Whereas, ‘over the same period, mobile call minutes have increased steadily from 132.1 billion to 148.6 billion.’

Source: Ringing the changes: do phone numbers still matter?

Another major factor that will drive technical change is the switch off of PSTN and ISDN services by 2025 as all UK telephony moves to newer, more flexible VoIP solutions.

This move to an all-IP world means the original purpose of area code numbers – a means of telling the system where to route the call between telephone exchanges- becomes obsolete. A number becomes simply an endpoint to reach a person. With many of us using the names in our mobiles to dial rather than typing a numeric string, it does beg the question of whether phone numbers need to – or how long they will – survive in their current form.

The geographic meaning of area codes is arguably already irrelevant to younger people, used to mobiles, who enjoy the idea of owning a number for life regardless of where they live. The older generation who are more reluctant to lose the geographical meaning which they believe area codes bring may wonder why geographic number porting is such a painful and manual process compared to switching mobile provider. The short answer is that the designers of the network, working within the then Post Office monopoly, never imagined number portability would be a requirement, and it was retro-fitted.

Ofcom are exploring how Blockchain technology, invented in 2008 to support the cryptocurrency bitcoin and since evolved to support business needs, could improve how UK landline telephone numbers are managed in a world where numbers are dissociated from physical exchanges.

Acccording to Ofcom, ‘Blockchain is based on locking ownership and status of a digital asset (in this case, a telephone number) with a cryptographic key, and a database platform that is distributed amongst members. Through key matching, business and data rules, the blockchain database reaches a consensus decision on the change to the digital asset. Using blockchain will allow us to create transactions (in this case, consumer porting) between parties and manage the lifecycle of a telephone number, transforming data to support voice call routing and ownership.’

Transitioning to blockchain could bring a variety of benefits including, improved customer experience when moving a number between providers, lower regulatory and business costs, increased industry agility and more effective management of nuisance calls and fraud.

Speaking about the potential transition to blockchain technology, Mansoor Hanif, Ofcom’s Chief Technology Officer, said: “We will be working with industry to explore how blockchain could make it quicker and easier for landline customers to switch providers while keeping their number – as well as reducing nuisance calls. And we’ll expand our research into other areas where innovative technologies such as blockchain could be applied to benefit consumers.” Whatever the outcome of the trial, one thing is certain – it’s all change for telephone numbers.

Ofcom: How blockchain technology could help to manage UK telephone numbers

To ensure our partners are on the front foot for the major changes to the telephony landscape that lie ahead Entanet has proactively stopped selling ISDN and transitioned to VOIP. We offer replacement services for ISDN before it’s proposed 2025 switch off. Our Full Fibre VoIP service combines our 500Mbps GPON connectivity with a choice of free SIP channels for those wanting to retain on-site PBX equipment or fully hosted voice seats for a scalable, cost-effective telephony solution.

Sources:

Entanet launches proactive ISDN replacement service to help partners get ahead of the game
Entanet enables resellers to stand out with its all-new hosted voice offering

For more information on which services we can offer to you, give our sales team a call on 0330 100 3550.

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