London calling

No matter how much we chat online, stream or make calls over the internet (VoIP) it seems as though our love of the humble landline is as strong as ever. So much so that London is running out of phone numbers.

That may seem surprising given that 79% of UK adults now own a smartphone and that in 2017 mobile web traffic overtook desktop traffic. Nevertheless, despite the rise in smartphone use, in the UK each year we still spend forty-four billion minutes chatting on our landlines. Add in the fact that most home broadband connections require an associated landline and it is perhaps unsurprising that the demand for telephone numbers remains high.

In January 2019 Ofcom’s Head of Numbering, Liz Greenberg, posed the question “could area codes become a thing of the past.” Underlying that question were the arguments that with more calls being made over broadband and with numbers being stored on mobiles rather than in our heads, the link between telephone numbers and locality is becoming increasingly remote.

Despite these arguments it seems that we are not yet ready to move away from area-defined codes. So with increasing demand for landlines from new homes and offices in London, Ofcom has taken the decision to make available 10 million new numbers starting (020)4.

This will add to the existing spectrum of (020)7, (020)8, and (020)3 numbers; resulting in a total of forty million separate landline telephone numbers being available in the London area. The first blocks of these new (020)4 numbers will be released by Ofcom in the autumn, enabling telecoms providers to start issuing them by the end of the year.

Despite the availability of new London numbers, the question facing businesses remains whether it is better to opt for a local, national or even international telephone number. As we’ve discussed before the answer will depend very much on the organisation’s anticipated customer base as well as their preferred method of calling.

For example, a business whose customers will predominantly make use of mobile telephony may be less concerned about the use of local geographic telephone numbers than one whose customers habitually call via landlines. Similarly, an organisation whose mission is to encourage its users to make contact may prioritise the offering of a memorable freephone number over one which indicates regional or national status. If that organisation is a charity or a not-for-profit body, it may however opt for an 03 number, thereby highlighting its charitable status.

Will area codes become a thing of the past? Ofcom indicates that that might be the case at some time in the future; particularly with the anticipated rise in number porting. In the meantime, however, businesses and charitable organisations should look at their telephone number as an essential ingredient in their marketing mix. By asking what message you want your telephone number to convey, who you want to attract, and how much it is going to cost people to call you; organisations have the chance to let their number choice speak volumes about the organisation.

Written by Alison