The situation with telephone numbers and ownership is quite clear, but definitely not obvious. So with all the usual disclaimers about not relying on this without taking professional advice I'll try and explain how telephone numbers work in the UK.
OFCOM AND TELEPHONE NUMBERS - WHO ARE OFCOM?
Ofcom was established as a body corporate by the Office of Communications Act 2002. Ofcom is the regulator for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services. The Secretary of State responsible can wind it up at any time. They are paid for by the licence fees they charge.
SO WHO DOES OWN TELEPHONE NUMBERS?
There seems to be no concept of telephone number ownership - it seems no one "owns" them.
The question is then who manages them and the answer to that is clear. Ofcom says:-
"Telephone numbers are a critical national resource, for consumers, businesses and the delivery of key public services. They must be managed effectively, so that they are available when needed, do not have to be changed, and mean something to those who call them. This is Ofcom's responsibility."
Ofcom got this responsibility from Oftel when they packed up and Oftel got it from BT when they were privatised.
SO YOU DON'T OWN YOUR PHONE NUMBERS?
You don't own your phone numbers and they can be changed at any time. Ofcom have demonstrated this on many occasions such as the reallocation of London codes.
HOW DOES NUMBER ALLOCATION WORK?
Ofcom said: "Last year alone Ofcom allocated 126 million new telephone numbers, including 51 million geographic phone numbers (01 and 02) and 75 million non-geographic numbers (08 and 09 numbers).
Ofcom allocates geographic numbers to communications companies, who in turn allocate them to businesses, organisations and customers at home. We also allocate numbers to mobile operators to give to their new customers.
Businesses and organisations are normally charged a fee for non-geographic numbers (08 and 09 numbers)."
Usually Ofcom allocates numbers in blocks of 10,000 to companies who in turn allocate them to customers. Where demand is high they limit the block size to 1,000 which gives them a lot more allocations to play with.
HOW DOES THIS WORK WITH CLOUD BASED TELECOMS?
Cloud based systems, such as that run by Birchills Telecom, allocate telephone geographic numbers to their clients. Because no VoIP provider, including Birchills, has enough lines to justify Ofcom allocating blocks of numbers UK wide directly to them there are deals with number allocation companies who supply the numbers. Most of these intermediate companies charge for this service. So telephone numbers are no longer free.
In early 2011 Ofcom began a consultation on the future allocation of phone numbers wich included the idea that Ofcom would charge for numbers in short supply. Surprisingly (not) they concluded that some number ranges should be paid for.
However, because the cloud and internet are not restricted by geography clients can take their phone numbers with them when they move across geographical boundaries. This is just not possible with the public telephone network.
CAN I PORT MY NUMBERS TO OTHER PROVIDERS?
This very much depends on your current provider. If your supplier is BT then the answer is yes. If it is Birchills then the answer is also yes. If it is with other providers then the answer may well be no. You should check before you sign up.
So I hope that explains all you might want to know about phone numbers and the way they are allocated. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to comment below:
jason @ voip 8/10/2013, 10:38:55 PM
To be honest, all this is information to me and I thank you for it.
I thought companies owned numbers but then again, I also thought that we had rights to them too!
PLEASE COMMENT BELOW
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