Hong Kong mobile numbers may have to start with 'unlucky' 4 and 7 as vacant numbers get used up

Inauspicious digits could be pressed into service as city's dwindling supply of numbers is used up

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 2:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 6:25pm

Hongkongers could soon have to accept mobile phone numbers starting with the inauspicious digits 4 and 7, as the city's insatiable appetite for smartphones threatens to see all vacant numbers used up within 21/2 years.

The Office of the Communications Authority is set to launch a public consultation on the matter towards the end of the year. The watchdog said there were 5.14 million numbers available for mobiles as of March, but they would be gone by February 2018 if Hongkongers continued to register new mobiles at a rate of 145,000 a month, as they had for the past three years.

The idea is likely to prove highly controversial. The number 4 in Cantonese sounds similar to the word for death. So seriously is the tradition taken that some developers exclude floors with the number 4 from buildings. Meanwhile 7, lucky to some in the West, is frowned upon as it is pronounced like a Cantonese swear word in some contexts

The idea of using mobile numbers starting in 4 and 7 originated in a paper tabled to the office's Telecommunications Regulatory Affairs Advisory Committee as an alternative to using numbers with more than the traditional eight digits. Using longer numbers would "incur significant social and economic costs to the community", the paper said.

Hongkongers gave the idea a mixed reaction yesterday.

"People nowadays are no longer that superstitious, at least that's what I think," said Alice Chan, who is in her 40s.

But Joe Tam, 25, said he would rather switch to longer numbers - though he has another solution.

"The government should screen out those existing numbers nobody uses and reuse them instead of introducing the new prefixes," Tam said. "I've yet to get used to numbers which start with the prefix 3; those numbers are often spam calls."

At present, numbers starting with 7 are allocated to two paging service operators, and about 83,000 are in use. Numbers starting in 4 are for network use.

Most Hong Kong mobile numbers start with 9, though numbers starting with 5 and 6 were added in 2000.

The city has long had one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in the world, at 228.4 per cent. That means for every Hongkonger there are more than two mobiles in service.