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Tuesday, 29 November 2011 15:36

Talk of mobile number scarcity greatly exaggerated

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The ACMA yesterday released its proposals for major changes to all aspects of telephone numbering in both the short (12 month) and medium (five year) terms. It prompted a number of headlines warning of imminent exhaustion of mobile phone numbers, but that was not something of concern to the ACMA.

The ACMA did flag that the current range of numbers for mobile services - those beginning 04xx - could be exhausted by 2017, but certainly did not raise it as a serious concern. Changes far more profound and far reaching were canvassed in the ACMA's discussion paper.

What the ACMA actually said on the subject of shortages was that the current mobile number range was merely "A current example of potential planned scarcity," that "can be readily overcome by using other number ranges for mobile phone services."

It then went on to say: "The ACMA considers that there is limited potential for inherent scarcity in telephone numbers, meaning it is not a useful starting point for determining how the broader numbering resource should be configured. Commonly, the principle of efficiency provides a better starting point when considering approaches to number specification and management."

And it added that this view was shared by other interested parties. "Importantly, all respondents to the [earlier ACMA discussion paper 'Allocation and charging of numbers'] agreed that the exhaustion of the existing mobile number range does not indicate that telephone numbers are a scarce resource."

The ACMA went on to canvass the possibility of removing altogether the distinction between mobile and standard fixed line (geographic) numbers as well as those used for satellite services and for what it calls location independent communications services (LICS).

These are services offered via a number beginning 0500 that the user can route to any destination fixed or mobile based on time of day or other rules. Telstra launched such a service under the name Telepath in 1996 with limited success. It was relaunched in 2000 under the name OneNumber but fared no better than the first incarnation, and there have been no other serious contenders.

The ACMA says in its discussion paper: "The numbering work program also identified that future changes to both network and device technology and to retail packages may provide the opportunity to convert geographic, mobile, LICS and satellite service numbers into one flexible general purpose range."

It also asked: "If there were any other reasons for retaining a separate range for mobile numbers other than the cost of calls [and] when mobile numbers could be converted to flexible general purpose numbers and what strategy should be used for transition."

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