Telcos and users win relief with dialling delay

Ottawa and Montreal will not get 10-digit dialling and new area codes as early as expected. The change represents a reprieve for carriers and their clients, says one industry analyst.

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in February said it would hold back new phone numbers in Ottawa and Montreal. Plans change, said Denis Carmel, the Commission’s spokesman. “When we looked at the numbers a year and a half back, the expected growth was a lot larger than what we’re witnessing now.”

Johanne Lemay, of Lemay-Yates Associates Inc. in Montreal, said postponement could be good for carriers. “It defers some costs involved in managing a different set of numbers.”

She added that the delay also means companies in Ottawa and Montreal need not prepare for a new dialling regime as soon as expected.

Nonetheless, businesses should get ready for additional area codes. Prep fax machines and dialup modems to understand 10-digit dialling now, advised Ian Angus, head of Angus TeleManagement Group Inc. in Ajax, Ont.

“People still should be doing it; it’s just that you have a year and a half longer than you thought.”

The original new-number scheme in Ottawa was multifaceted. First the CRTC planned to stop protecting central office (CO) codes (the first three digits of a seven-digit number) in 2004. CO code protection holds back certain telephone numbers. It’s meant to make inter-city dialling easier, so people in Ottawa (the “613” area code) can dial seven digits to contact people in neighbouring Hull, Que. (“819”), where plenty of federal government agencies set up shop.

An end to CO code protection means many phone numbers become free, and it means people in “613” and “819” would have to dial 10 digits (the area code plus the seven-digit number) for local calls.

Now the Commission says CO code protection will end later than planned. As well, the CRTC had meant to introduce a new area code for the region, but that has been suspended “indefinitely,” given new estimates of when Ottawa will exhaust its current phone number supply. The Commission says “613” numbers will run out in 2014.

In Montreal, the government expected to introduce a new area code (“438”) and 10-digit dialling within the “514” part of the city by 2004. Now the Commission says the new regime will not come to pass until 2005.

Delays are the result of a changed telecom sector. In a press release the Commission said, “The reduced demand for telephone numbers…may be explained by slower than expected growth in local telecommunications markets.”

It’s no secret that local service competition is languishing. Many competitors are gone. With their passing, the need for new numbers disappeared, Angus said.

As a carrier, “every time I put in a new switch, I need a minimum of 10,000 numbers.…So somebody says, ‘I’m now a local phone company and I’m going to cover all of Ontario, every town; I’m going to have a switch in every town.’ They can easily take a million numbers with no customers. And that’s what happened. The numbers were taken up, but they were not in fact used.”

Now that those numbers no longer belong to telcos, they’re available again. As well, technological advancements reduce the need for more numbers, said Joe Greene, an Ottawa-based analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. “I would suspect it has something to do with high-speed Internet.” He explained that unlike dialup connections, with broadband “you don’t need a second (phone) line.”

Don Karges, executive consultant, architecture and technology with CGI Group Inc. in Toronto, pointed out that eventually the world would exhaust the area code supply. In the future, people might have to dial 11 digits for local calls, he said.

Carmel from the Commission said, “Down the line some point, we will have to look at solutions. It might mean adding a new number in the area code.”