Extra digit fails to engage callers
By ELISABETH TACEY
FEWER than one in six telephone users are adding the '2' to the front of numbers they dial - and in some areas only one in 10 callers are bothering.
And Hongkong Telecom's director of network operations, William Cheung Kam-hung, admitted the usage might fall off as people realised they did not need to dial the digit to get through at present.
Office of the Telecommunications Authority senior assistant director Anthony Wong Sik-kai confirmed the dual-access period - when numbers with and without the initial 2 can get through - would be extended until the end of May.
That would allow banks and credit-card companies to manually change the numbers on their 25,000 card-input terminals in stores throughout the territory.
The companies had complained the initial three-month dual period did not give them enough time to alter all the terminals' phone numbers.
Between 14 and 15 per cent of calls had been made with the 2 since the extra digit came into operation on January 1, with little change during the first four weeks until last Friday, Hongkong Telecom said.
The figures were a disappointment to Mr Cheung, who has sampled more than three million calls every day since the changeover on New Year's Day.
He had analysed 12 per cent of Hong Kong's total calls, which reached a staggering six million each hour in busy periods, he said.
The busiest periods were from 9 am to 1 pm, 2 pm to 7 pm and 8 pm to 11 pm, he said.
A mere 10 per cent of calls had the 2 added in remote parts of Hong Kong, rising to 22 per cent in the most obedient area, Admiralty.
And, in business areas, the figure could be bolstered by reprogrammed auto-dial fax machines, he said.
'It's quite a low pick-up rate,' he said. 'We would like to see a higher rate, but it's still quite early.' Although numbers would work with or without the 2 for some time, Hongkong Telecom had publicised January 1 as the change-over day.
Mr Cheung said the company would not step up its publicity of the change yet, but would keep monitoring the situation.
But he agreed the figures might not change much until the dual-access period ended.
'If customers feel that they don't need to [use the 2], they won't until they have to, but that's not what we hope. Certainly we don't want to encourage people not to use it,' he said.
A quick - and unrepresentative - survey of the South China Morning Post office found that of 41 people asked, 23 were not using the 2, nine were 'when they remembered' and another nine claimed to do so on every call. Of those, two-thirds thought their calls would not get through without it.