Telecoms recommend eight-digit mobile phone system to avoid numbers shortage

 

The telecoms regulator, Ms Etain Doyle, should introduce an eight-digit mobile phone system to avoid a shortage of phone numbers next year, Eircell and Esat Digifone said yesterday.

Both are making separate submissions to Ms Doyle today on the full number portability system, which she believes offers "considerable consumer benefit". If introduced, the system would allow mobile phone subscribers to retain their entire phone number if they change networks. This means a customer could migrate from Eircell's 087 network to Digifone's 086 - or vice versa - without changing any part of their existing number.

The current system - subscriber number portability - means customers retain their seven-digit number but change network code if migrating.

In theory, the new system would increase competition by enabling subscribers to change networks more easily. This is seen as significant as the number of networks will increase in the future. For example, Meteor's 085 system will be launched before Christmas - increasing the number of networks to three - and Ms Doyle is expected to award four 3G licences next May.

But a paper published yesterday by Eircell claimed the introduction of the full number system could lead to a shortage of new numbers next year.

The company, an Eircom subsidiary which claims more than one million subscribers, said the supply of new numbers in the current seven-digit system will expire in June 2001.

"Full number portability in the Irish mobile market will increase the amount of numbers available for the current mobile market to 24 million from the current six million," it said.

"In the medium term, 24 million numbers will not be sufficient for the industry and there will have to be a move to eight-digit numbers, providing 40 million numbers with subscriber number portability, or 160 million with full number portability. Eircell argued.

"To ensure disruption is minimised, full number portability would need to be in place, fully tested and operational in 10 months' time," it said.

The company claimed it was "practically impossible" that this deadline could be met.

Esat's interconnection and regulatory manager, Mr John Gunnigan, said the "only sensible option" was to introduce an eight-digit system. Digifone claims more than 700,000 sub scribers.

Citing a cost-per-port in Britain of £23 sterling (€37) when a similar change was introduced, Eircell also claimed the introduction of full number portability would involve "considerable expense" for consumers. This was because the full and subscriber number portability systems cannot work together, the company said. It is thought, however, that the introduction of an eight-digit system would cost consumers money, as each of the 1.8 million numbers already in use would have be changed.