Insights Ofcom publishes statement on the future of telephone numbers


Ofcom has decided to amend the rules that govern the use of phone numbers in the UK to ensure they take account of the substantial changes taking place in the country’s networks and continue to promote consumer confidence in phone services.

Ofcom says that the way we use phones is changing. Mobile and online communications are increasing, and landline use is in general decline. The traditional landline phone network in the UK, the public switched telephone network (PSTN), is coming to the end of its life and is gradually being replaced. Over the next few years, landline calls will be carried over more modern Internet Protocol (IP) networks, with landline phone services being increasingly delivered over broadband connections.

Against this backdrop, Ofcom has been reviewing its rulebook for phone numbers in the UK, the National Telephone Numbering Plan (NTNP). It outlined its proposed approach to this review in its first consultation in 2019. In its second consultation in 2021, Ofcom put forward proposals relating to geographic numbering. This document explains the regulator’s decisions.

In brief, Ofcom has decided to keep the existing rules on geographic numbering which allocate the first few digits of a landline phone number to an area (the area code) and provide location significance. Although IP networks do not require area codes to route calls in the same way as legacy networks, and recognition of the geographic link between phone number and location is declining, it is still valued by some people and businesses. Ofcom says that these rules permit out-of-area use of geographic numbers which provides an important degree of flexibility in number use for people and businesses.

Ofcom has also decided to remove the obligation on telecoms providers to provide local dialling, which allows a call to be made from one landline to another landline in the same area without dialling the area code. In Ofcom’s view, the value of this facility to phone users has declined, and it is more complex to provide on IP networks. Ofcom anticipates that telecoms providers are likely to remove this facility as they migrate landline customers to new IP voice services. Ofcom has also set out its expectations for measures that telecoms providers should take when removing local dialling to mitigate any risk of confusion or harm for their customers.

Ofcom has published a revised version of the NTNP to bring into effect this decision and will be monitoring telecoms providers’ plans for withdrawing the service and informing customers of the change.

Ofcom’s second consultation also included proposals to amend the NTNP to prohibit the sharing of revenue with calling parties. Ofcom is considering the responses received and gathering additional information to inform its next steps.

Ofcom says that it will continue its review of the NTNP and in the next stage will look at the future role for 084 and 087 non-geographic numbers. To read Ofcom’s statement in full, click here.