Added number boosts capacity
THE numeral '2' was added to all Hong Kong phone numbers from January 1 this year.
This move, the result of a report which found the former seven-digit system had reached its limits, should provide capacity until well past the end of the century.
The need for more number capacity was made all the more intense by the entry of three new competitors into the fixed-network market.
Adding the new digit has expanded by 10-fold the numbers available for allocation.
Another number issue relating to the entry of new competitors concerns portability.
To encourage competition, customers need to be able to keep their existing number if they switch network operators.
Business users, in particular, would have been far less likely to change operators if they stood to endure a disruptive change of number as a result.
Last year, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) estimated that number portability would save businesses up to $12 billion over 15 years in printing costs and lost business.
OFTA took over responsibility for numbering from Hongkong Telecom in recognition of the vital role numbering would play in the new competitive environment.
Details of the portability scheme had not been announced up until early last month. However, OFTA is committed to number portability.
One likely scenario is that life-time numbers will be available but they will be portable between operators, so there will be no obligation on customers to remain a subscriber of any particular operator.
At least two of the new fixed-network competitors - Hutchison and New World - intend offering personal numbers as part of their initial range of services.
Personal numbers will be portable in another important way: they will be routeable through subscribers' telecommunications tool of choice - either the home phone, pager or mobile phone.
Of course, there will be a charge for a personal number, either a one-off up-front fee or a monthly charge.