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Mobile number exhaustion accelerating in Oz

Regulator plots out new numbering plan

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The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) says mobile numbers could be exhausted by 2017, according to a discussion paper canvassing revisions to this country’s numbering plan.

The last time the ACMA mapped out the future of telephone numbers, it expected the mobile pool to last until 2027, but Australia’s limitless hunger for mobiles has raced ahead of expectations.

It’s not just consumers that are soaking up the numbers – although many households have multiple phones as well as tablets and 3G data devices. Australia is also deploying millions of SIMs in everything from EFTPOS terminals to e-readers.

At the same time, our appetite for fixed numbers is on the wane – not as rapidly as is suggested by those who measure only Telstra’s PSTN services, since many customers are switching their fixed lines to other providers via Naked DSL offerings, but the paper notes a “slow decline” from 10.67 million fixed telephone numbers allocated at the end of 2009 to 10.59 million at the end of 2010.

One proposal offered to address the looming shortage of mobile numbers is simply to allow mobiles to be assigned numbers outside their traditional “04” range. The ACMA is also eyeing the “0550” range, created long ago for ‘location-independent communications services’ but largely unused.

Directory service numbers are also under scrutiny in the paper, with the ACMA stating that “current practices … no longer meet the original intent of the legislative scheme, may be causing consumer confusion on both service type and price, and may have the potential to stifle innovation.”

A number of service types are slated for removal, including numbers allocated to Enum trials (remember how Enum was going to take over the world?). The number range allocated to old-style analogue mobile services (AMPS) is also on the end-of-life list, more than a decade after the last service was discontinued on the mainland.

In a move that’s bound to spark at least a little controversy, the regulator is also asking whether Australia’s long devotion to the untimed local call is becoming an anachronism. The problem, it notes, is deciding what counts as “local”, considering that someone calling the home phone from a mobile 500 meters away will be charged differently to a call between Parramatta and Penrith.

The paper also notes that growing use of VoIP services (which today can only connect to the PSTN using a geographic number) and the rollout of the National Broadband Network (which will probably spark new growth in VoIP) will also change the way telephone numbers are used.

The numbering plan consultation is being conducted here. ®

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