Getting our phone numbers in order

Voice over IP has always challenged the convention of phone numbering plans. This week ACMA made a slight change to the rules, but there’s a lot more to do.

Until now carriage service providers (CSPs) had to ensure they issued numbers to customers in the appropriate geographic area. Not everyone followed the rules. Major players like Skype have a limited stock of number ranges, so if you lived in Port Macquarie you’d probably get issued a Sydney number.

As of this week, says Robert Johnson, ACMA’s manager for telecommunications, licensing, numbering and submarine cables, the geographic constraint no longer exists. A CSP can offer numbers outside a customer’s own local area, provided they are made aware of the consequences.

The reason people want out-of-area numbers is, of course, to reduce the cost of calls. But if we’re all busy trying to avoid tolls by acquiring extra phone numbers, doesn’t that make a mockery of the current numbering and tariff structure?

The simple answer would be a single, fixed-line, low-cost number range. That’s been tried. The 0550 range was designed for precisely this purpose, but it failed because no agreement was reached on what charge should be made to originate and terminate these calls. John Lindsay, Internode’s general manager Regulatory and Corporate Affairs, says carriers couldn’t agree on who would get paid what and so many just refused to connect the calls.

We look at all these issues in this week’s Twisted Wire and ask whether the National Broadband Network could simplify things. Surely it’s the great white hope for a standard, flat rate for the carriage of fixed-line voice calls.

Maybe. But Andrew Cox, director of Channels and Marketing at IP Systems, says the numbering system might have a new lease of life — handling next-generation communications services, like video to video calling. Just when we thought the whole affair couldn’t get any more complicated!

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