UK Phone Code Madness

Can somebody explain the phone code madness that has been occuring in the UK for the past 10-15 years?

For example, the London area code used to be 01. London was then split up into two areas and changed to 071 and 081. They then added a 1 before the seven and eight to make 0171 and 0181. They then changed it again to (020) 7 and (020) 8.

Was it just gross incompetence that somebody did not have the foresight to see these changes would need to be made when the code was still 01? Why didn’t they just change from 01 to 0207 and 0208? Is there a conpiracy between stationary companies and the people who make this decision?

I think that they made the original split (the original 1 code into 71 and 81) and only later realized that those two codes weren’t going to provide enough numbers, and also that the whole numbering structure needed to be rebuilt. I think also that there was a change of administration at the same time.

The change to the 171 and 181 codes was just a temporary intermediate step to the 20 code, intended to place all the London numbers behind area codes starting with 1 again, and thus free up area codes starting with 7 and 8 for other uses.

Then they could move London to a new and roomier 20 code.

You know, of course, that the leading 0 is not actually part of your area code; rather, it is your trunk access digit. Theoretically, if everyone dialed the area code all the time, the 0 would not be necessary. It is not used when calling from outside the UK.

Two words.

British Telecom

Now hang on a moment; nice as it is to rant about monolithic corporations and the like, I think it’s actually OFTEL that is responsible for the area code changes (and the mistake in estimating future capacity).

Quite right. BT are responsible for many of the world’s ills, but the Big Number change is not one of them. That particular debacle was the fault of Oftel.

One of the main problems was that Oftel didn’t predict the big rise in direct-dial switchboards, second lines etc. Quite why they didn’t predict this is another matter.

Just for the benefit of Americans and other folks with halfway decent telcos, this is the basic story…

In the long, long distant past, each exchange in london had a three-letter code (BEL for Belgravia, CIT for City, etc). The numerical equivalents of these eventually became the first part of the London number, prefixed bt 01 for London, e.g. 01 234 5678.

Then, when the numbers started running out, they decided to split London into “outer” and “inner” regions, with inner getting the 071 code, and outer getting 081. That was in 1990.

In 1995, all area codes got an extra “1” after the initial zero, apart from a few which changed altogether. The idea was that this would free up extra capacity by opening up codes starting 02… etc. So London became 0171 and 0181. “This is the last change you will have to make in your lifetime,” said Oftel.

Sadly, five years later we were forced to change yet again, with London being reunited into a single 020 code. The old 7-digit numbers were prefixed with either a 7 (old 0171 numbers) or an 8 (old 0181 numbers), to form an eight-digit local number, eg 0171 234 5678 became 020 7234 5678.

However, this seems to have confused most people - they can’t get their heads round the fact that the codes are not 0207 and 0208, there’s just a single code of 020. I’ve given up trying to explain this when giving my phone number to other people in London.
“Yes, it’s 7782 XXXX”
“Is that 0207 or 0208?”
“No, it’s 020. But you don’t need to dial that if you’re in London”
“Oh, forget it. OK, it’s 0207 782 XXXX”

Same here; I work in (well, near) Portsmouth; the dialling code is 023 - same as Southampton, it just happens that all Southampton numbers currently begin with 80 and all Portsmouth numbers begin with 92; people insist that Porstmouth code is 02392 and Southampton 02380 - they are wrong, so wrong.

Yep… I’m just waiting for these folks’ reaction once all the London numbers starting with 7 or 8 run out, and they start assigning numbers starting with (say) 5. “Hey, where’s that 0205 area code?”

Naah, when the 7s and 8s run out, we should change all the area codes again…

Adding an extra digit to the area code part of the number makes no sense anyway. For instance, when I lived in Liverpool my home number was in the form 051 234 5678, but they added an extra digit to make it 0151 234 5678. The justification given was that we may eventually have run out of numbers beginning 051, but if that ever happened the new numbers would have to be in the form 0251 234 5678.

But think that through - if somebody in my area needed a new line and all the 0151’s were used up, the new one would use a different area code from mine and we’d have to dial the entire number to contact each other (even if we lived in the same street). Dialing from outside, you wouldn’t know which area code to use even if you knew which city you were dialling. It’s total madness.

If they really needed to increase the length of the numbers they should’ve added the extra digit to the line number, not the area code.

Everton, I thought the same thing, but I htimk it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The reason they added the 1 after the 0 in all area codes (even ones up in Scotland that only cover a few hundred numbers) was so that a whole new range of codes starting 02 would be freed up for area codes. (03, 04 etc are also opened up, some of which are reserved, eg 07 for mobiles etc, 08 and 09 for special rates etc).

Then, if Liverpool’s 0151 numbers are about to run out, they can move it to a code of the form 02x, with eight-digit numbers. As I understand it, the whole country has been divided into 10 areas from 020 (London) to 029 (Wales), to determine which code the new numbers will get.

I agree that adding a digit to the number would have been easier, but I guess there is some technical reason, to do with the way the exchanges work or something, why they chose this method instead.