[LINK] Phone numbers set for shake-up

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Mon Nov 1 08:42:25 AEDT 2010

At 20:57 +1100 25/10/10, Max Devlin wrote:
>Phone numbers set for shake-up
>Lucy Battersby
>October 25, 2010 - 10:47AM

Here's the take from the Oz

Massive take-up of mobile phones prompts urgent rationalisation program
Mark Day
The Australian
November 01, 2010 12:00AM

MODERN life is ruled by numbers. We've all got heaps of 'em - credit 
cards, telephones, bank accounts, store accounts, frequent flyers ...

The list is endless - and most come with assorted PINs and CVVs which 
few of us are capable of remembering.

You've got to be Rain Man to store a credit card sequence in your 
head - 16 numbers, followed by four for a PIN and three or four for a 
verification number (CVV) for online transactions. Don't even try an 
IP address, which can be 32 bits in length.

Funny thing is, though, while we mere mortals have been assigned 
numbers by the squillion to enable us to live and identify ourselves 
in this digital age, computers actually work with just two: zero and 

Wouldn't it be lovely if life could be that simple for humans? If we 
want to be silly about simplifying the numbers system, imagine 
implanting microchips in babies at birth. They would have a unique 
identification number for life and it could be used for telephones, 
credit cards, emails, tax payments and the pension.

Before anyone declares a figurative fatwa on me for such an absurd, 
Orwellian thought, it's not proposed and it's never going to happen 
in a nation that shouted down the concept of an Australia Card 
identification system.

The numbers we use most in everyday life are for telephones and we've 
grown used to deciphering the information in them. For instance, a 
phone number will tell us at a glance whether it's a fixed line or a 
mobile, and if it's fixed, where it is and therefore roughly how much 
it will cost us to call.

Most fixed-line phone numbers have a geographic identifier - 02 for 
NSW, 03 for Victoria and Tasmania, 07 for Queensland and so on - as 
well as a city or suburban locator. If I am asked to call a 9977 
number in Sydney, I know it's in my local area and it will be at my 
local call cost. A 62 number designates Canberra, and that will be 
charged at a higher rate.

[Confused. (02) 62 is Canberra, so from Sydney that works.  But (03) 
62 is Hobart, and (08) 62 is Perth:
[The SMH could have got away with that, but not 'The Australian'.

[And I was wrong the other day:
0550 wasn't 'personal numbers' but rather the Proposed VOIP range
It was 0500 that was "Find me anywhere" - divert the number to a 
mobile or normal number and the caller pays the bill... ]

But all this may be about to change. Australia's telephone numbering 
system is bursting at the seams. Just 13 years after its last, 
disruptive evolution that made us all change our numbers - and 
signage, stationery and advertising - a new program of 
rationalisation has begun.

This time no wholesale number changes are envisaged. But the 
Australian Communications and Media Authority last week kicked off a 
process likely to dramatically change the numbering system to make it 
more efficient and capable of handling increasing pressures and new 

ACMA is best known as the media watchdog, administering broadcasting 
rules and regulations. It also licenses and manages users of radio 
spectrum from emergency services to mobile phones, facilitates deep 
space radiofrequency research and presides over the telephone number 
plan. In all, it has a role in administering 37 acts of parliament.

Last week's announcement of a call for submissions on phone numbers 
is the first of a four-step process. The need for a rejig is urgent 
because since the last changes in 1997 there has been a massive 
uptake of mobile phones.

There are now 22 million mobiles in Australia compared with 10 
million fixed lines - a reversal of the proportions a decade ago.
This has distorted old arrangements. For instance, 1800 numbers were 
created so businesses could entice long-distance callers to make free 
calls in the expectation that the cost would be covered by profits 
from sales generated. Calls from mobiles are not free, raising the 
questions: should they be free, and do we need 1800 numbers any more?

The telephone charging regime instituted more than a century ago is 
based on distance. We all knew it would cost more to phone from 
Sydney to Perth than Sydney to Penrith. STD pips used to alert us to 
the fact we were calling long distance and paying higher costs, but 
they have gone by the wayside, along with the telephonist who used to 
break into a conversation every three minutes to ask "are you 

But distance doesn't matter in modern telephony. It is often cheaper 
to call California than Canberra because telephone companies can buy 
bulk cable capacity at a fraction of the rate charged for local 
lines. As well, a rising number of consumers are locked into fixed 
monthly payments on capped plans where some calls can even be free.

Landline calls are currently funnelled through 2000 exchanges in 
Australia with widely differing price structures. If all calls were 
to be charged at flat rates, this complex structure could be 
unravelled with benefits to consumers through added portability of 
numbers and to national telcos though abandoning the need for them to 
apply for batches of numbers in 2000 locations. The issue here is 
efficiency versus historical procedure.

It's a similar story for different types of numbers. There are 1800 
numbers, 1300 numbers, 1900 numbers, 13 numbers and 36 other types, 
each designed for a purpose that may have made sense when they were 
assigned, but no longer does. It's far too complicated and confusing 
for consumers when changed management systems could provide greater 
simplicity and price transparency.

Another area demanding new thinking revolves around 
voice-over-internet calls. Some, such as Skype computer-to-computer 
calls, are free and require an email address rather than a number. 
Others connect via the telephone system at a fraction of the cost of 
standard calls. Clearly, this is the way of the future but what is 
not clear is how the explosion of VOIP systems should be managed.

Other issues to be reviewed include improved location services from 
mobile phones.

Fixed lines have a database of locations used by emergency services 
and taxi companies; mobiles do not. But technology can now allow 
mobile locations to be pinpointed to within a few metres, which has 
implications beyond emergency services.

A savvy marketer who knows when a phone-carrying potential customer 
is approaching his or her store would be able to send an SMS 
advertising the day's specials. That's a scary or smart idea 
depending on your point of view.

ACMA is calling for public submissions on the numbering plan. More 
details are available at www.acma.gov.au.

Roger Clarke                                 http://www.rogerclarke.com/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
                    Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au                http://www.xamax.com.au/

Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre      Uni of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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