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London is to get 10 million more landline phone numbers this year to meet rising demand fuelled by new homes and offices. Telecoms regulator Ofcom announced recently that it is introducing a new (020)4 number range for the capital. The city, whose dialling code is 020, currently has 30 million phone numbers allocated across the existing (020)3, 7 and 8 ranges, Ofcom said.

But new homes and offices being built across London are fuelling demand for landline phone numbers, with fewer than a million within the old ranges left to be handed out to phone companies, it added. The regulator said these will be used up within a year as it distributes 30,000 London numbers each week. It will start accepting applications for (020)4 numbers from telecoms companies from October and expects the new numbers to start being allocated to customers from December.

Ofcom phone numbers

“We’re seeing a growing need for 020 numbers, as London expands and new homes and offices are built,” explained Liz Greenberg, Head of Numbering at Ofcom. “These 10 million new numbers will allow us to meet demand and help keep the capital connected.”

Although use is declining due to the popularity of mobile phone calls, over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp and Skype, as well as other forms of communication such as social media, 44 billion minutes of calls are made every year on a landline phone.

Meanwhile, the majority of broadband connections are powered by a landline that requires a phone number. Eventually, however, Ofcom could retire geographical area codes as other forms of communication become popular.

Ofcom says that since the majority of phone users in the UK don’t manually enter numbers on their device, it’s possible the geographical area code has lost its significance. Younger users like the idea of a number for life but older people are strongly against the eradication of local codes because it gives them reassurance about local businesses.

History of London numbers

London’s area code has changed several times over the years.

In 1958 the city was allocated the single code 01, which remained until 1990 when it was replaced by two codes – 071 for inner London numbers, and 081 for outer London. Five years later, all UK area codes gained a ‘1’ after the ‘0’ to make it clear it was a landline number, and the capital’s codes changed to 0171 and 0181.

In 2000, the UK’s phone numbers were reorganised through the ‘Big Number Change’. London was given a single area code once again – 020 – and the inner and outer London divide was removed.

But five years later, Ofcom research uncovered a widespread misconception among Londoners that the city still had two area codes – 0207 and 0208. Only 13% of people, without prompting, correctly identified 020 as being London’s single area code.

How phone numbers evolved

In the early days of telephone calls, operators manually put callers through to each other. Phone numbers were designated based on the name of the local telephone exchange.

The first three letters of the exchange name were converted to the corresponding digits on the telephone dial. For example, you might have rung the operator and asked for “WIMbledon 0456”, which would have been converted to 946 0456.

So, there are still clues to the origins of certain phone numbers. Today, that number would be 020 7946 0456.

Article originally produced and reprinted from Ofcom website: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/features-and-news/new-020-4-phone-numbers

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