ITU plans freephone standard
Companies wanting to advertise through a free telephone number will find it easier to operate internationally thanks to a new standard from the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
The ITU, a United Nations agency that sets telecommunications standards, has approved a Universal International Freephone Numbering standard that will usher in global free number registration.
Until now, companies have had to make separate arrangements for a free number in each country they sought responses from.
Under the new standard, they will be able to register throughout the world simultaneously, 'greatly freeing up companies' ability across international markets,' according to the ITU.
US telecommunications giant AT&T said some US$100 billion in goods and services was sold each year through freephone services, but the ITU said Europe and the Asia-Pacific region had been slow to take up the service.
The need for an internationally co-ordinated freephone service had been accentuated by the ability to advertise globally through technologies like the Internet.
'Calls to the new global number can also be routed to different destinations, allowing companies to direct their incoming calls to the most appropriate location for efficient handling,' the ITU said.
Freephone services were pioneered by US companies in the 1960s and the US remains the main base for freephone enterprise, with 90 per cent of the world's freephone numbers and 100 million free calls daily.
The ITU said the new international system would operate by dialling the international access code, for example, 001 for Hong Kong Telecom IDD subscribers, followed by 800 and an eight-digit global subscriber number.
Numbers would be portable between operators. The ITU will be the system registrar, allocating and maintaining the global register of numbers.
Numbers will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. Applications will be collected from December 3 and the ITU will start sorting out conflicts and assigning numbers from February 4 next year.
Information on the new standard is scheduled to be available on the World-Wide Web this month.