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ACMA reveals plans for 100 million more mobile numbers

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Australia needs an extra 100 million phone numbers for mobile devices, says the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which has taken the first step towards that goal by setting out plans for new numbers that start with “05”. All Australian mobile numbers have, until now, started with “04”.

ACMA says the new 05 pool is needed because Australia is running out of 04 numbers. Dougal Heath, ACMA's Acting Section Man of the Authority's Numbering Section, told The Register the 60 million or so 04 numbers could run out in 2017, although he thinks 2020 is a more likely denouement date.

ACMA's statement about the 05 scheme quotes its Chairman Chris Chapman as saying the Authority “... estimates an additional 100 million numbers will be needed to provide an adequate supply for more than 20 years.”

Just why we need so many numbers is a little hard to pin down. Heath says one reason is that telcos like to keep a nice, deep, pool of numbers ready for activation: the countless pre-paid SIMs at retail outlets all need a live, so it makes sense to have a lot of numbers waiting for instant activation. Throw in the fact that it can take months or years before a number is recycled back into the pool and it plainly makes sense to have lots of numbers available.

Heath also points out that growth in devices like wireless broadband modems, iPads and wireless-enabled machine-to-machine communications devices has been very strong and there's every reason to expect more such devices will come online in future years.

But even with that growth, provisioning 100 million new numbers suggests considerable optimism that Australians will use multiple wide area wireless devices in the next 20 years or so. We make that assertion because the current 60-million-strong pool of numbers will max out when Australia's population is around 25 million for a ratio of around 2.2 devices per person.

It's hard to predict Australia's population in 2040 and beyond, but it is worth nothing that the current federal government has stepped away from the Big Australia policy and its target for 36 million residents by 2050. If we optimistically assume 32 million people inhabit the continent by 2040 (a date we've picked because it is “more than 20 years” beyond the possible start date of 2017 for the 05 number pool) that will mean 160 million mobile numbers are available for citizens of this wide brown land. That's five mobile-number-using devices per head.

Assessing the suitability or otherwise of that ratio is impossible: the iPhone is just five years old and the changes it has wrought have been massive and largely unpredictable at the time of its launch. Any assessment of the suitability of our hypothetical device:resident ratio is therefore likely to be bunk.

But the plan to release 100 million new numbers does, at least, mean Australia has breathing space for future growth.

“We don't want to leave it too late,” Heath said. “It's better to get in early and have certainty.” ®

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