Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Please buy numbers in conservation areas

There are areas in the UK which have fewer telephone numbers available, and are called conservation areas. One could renumber, like so many areas for so many decades (I recall when Peopleton exchange renumbered from three digit numbers). But no, OFCOM have a new tack, and that is to charge for numbers in conservation areas. Some are challenging the legality of this, and we hope they win. We are having to pay, under duress.

The problem is the scheme they have created is cack-handed to such an extent that it is now in our interests to sell more numbers in these areas.

The scheme is that....
  • There is a minimum size block we can get allocated, 1000 numbers
  • We have to pay for all numbers allocated even if we do not have customers
  • If we have a number that is ported out to someone else, we get a discount, and that is more than we pay for the number, and the company that it is ported to pays nothing.
It would not be so bad if we only paid for numbers that are live and for which we have paying customers. But no, we pay for all numbers we have allocated less discount for those ported out.

So, what do we do (in the best interests of our shareholders, as required by the Companies Act)?

I created a separate company (not part of the same group of companies) and set up a porting agreement, and a commercial contract for VoIP.

All customers, for over a year now, buying or having numbers in these areas agree on sign-up to port the number to the new provider. We then have a commercial arrangement with the new provider to deliver the calls for that number. This means for live numbers we save more than the cost of a dormant number in these areas. We have done this for the first year and proved it meets OFCOM rules and received the discount.

So now we have to try and encourage as many customers as possible to get numbers live in these areas so that they can be ported out and save us money.

This is a trial of 30 areas codes. If it goes nationwide we may have to shut down doing VoIP at all, as it would not be commercial viable for any small VoIP provider. Let's hope the trial fails and they stop charging, or the legal challenges work and they have to refund.

So, for now, we ask people to take numbers in these conservation areas, please. We can "reserve" numbers for 10p/month now, and that counts. We may actually do some commercial incentives, perhaps even free numbers or some silly low price to get people to take large blocks in these areas. That is the way for us to save the most money.

The big issue is that, until now, there was no reason for any telco to hand back a number block to OFCOM as there were free. Even going bust, another telco would take over the blocks. But now there is a cost for such blocks, so it may not happen. If blocks are handed back, even ported-out numbers will stop working and consumers will suffer when their numbers stop even through no fault of the company from which they buy the (ported) number. Clever idea OFCOM to expose the problems with porting by doing this.

Clever scheme OFCOM, well done making it in our commercial interests to sell more numbers in areas that are short of numbers. Excellent work there.

Long term - let's talk OFCOM - about DNS based number allocation. Make it work per number. Happy to discuss and solve these problems, as ever. Really long terms, "numbers" are so 20th Century and obsolete.

Update: Just to be clear here - two key issues even if you accept that charging for numbers is a way to reduce take up (a) only charge for the numbers that are in use, and this is no less admin than asking how many ported out, and (b) Surely only charge for new blocks from now, as existing telcos with any live numbers can't really give back blocks, so you are not impacting take up any more by charging for blocks already allocated or just new blocks.

Update: Current conservation area codes 01202  01206 01223 01224 01253 01273 01274 01276 01332 01382 01384 01452 01482 01483 01582 01603 01604 01642 01702 01752 01753 01772 01782 01792 01793 01865 01902 01908 01924 01925

19 comments:

  1. You might need to post examples of conservation numbers RevK

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quite. I'll have to get the list.

      Delete
  2. From a customer point of view - this post makes worrying reading for anyone on or potentially wanting to use AAISP for VoIP. To me it reads that we should be using a more expensive provider (ie, gradwell - who charge 4x your fees) who have the spare margin to swallow these new ofcom fees?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The issue applies to pretty much any VoIP provider. The cost, if they extended to the whole country, is a stupidly large amount. Whatever business model one has now, it is a massive hit. AAISP is far from alone in this concern - it could drive use back to the days of BT monopoly.

      Delete
    2. To give you an idea, if we were charged for all 01 and 02 area codes for our free numbers, we would be paying OFCOM over £100,000 a year extra. Even much larger VoIP providers may struggle with that!

      Delete
  3. >>>If we have a number that is ported out to someone else, we get a discount, and that is more than we pay for the number, and the company that it is ported to pays nothing.

    Did you just describe a way to get free money? If the discount is more than the number, then if I port out a whole 1000 block, am I making money?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can only port numbers with a subscriber - it is the subscriber that ports. I also think that they don't pay out if the discount total exceeds the bill, which is a shame.

      Delete
    2. 1) A&A Numbers (holding) LTD subscribes to a block of 1000 numbers from A&A Numbers (bulk) LTD

      2) A&A Numbers (holding) LTD ports the numbers to A&A Numbers (porting) LTD

      3) Profit

      Delete
    3. The port has to be by the subscriber really.

      Delete
    4. A&A Numbers (holding) LTD is the subscriber. Totally separate legal entity. It's A&A Numbers (bulk) LTD that got the 1000 numbers from OFCOM

      Delete
    5. Well, possible, and maybe something to try if they want to do this nationally.

      Delete
  4. How about offering a free holding number to people who live in one of those conservation areas who have broadband from you? If it's part of a "bundle" of services, and offered for free to people who live there, it may be harder for OFCOM to object to you doing it, and then you've set the precedent and can roll it out more widely to the rest of your customer base!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. May help a little, not a bad idea. Better than just doing "free numbers".

      Delete
  5. > (b) Surely only charge for new blocks from now, as existing telcos with any live numbers can't really give back blocks, so you are not impacting take up any more by charging for blocks already allocated or just new blocks

    The problem here is it makes it very hard for new players to start up as they're at a significant disadvantage. What would be better would be to only charge those telcos who have the legacy equipment which requires blocks to be as large as they are - those who could handle much smaller allocations (e.g. 100 numbers) shouldn't have to pay for all the numbers in a huge block that is that big because that's all an older system can cope with. If you got the pricing right it would be an encouragement to upgrade legacy equipment and solve the problem properly...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Is it just me, or is the whole bloody concept of ofcom flawed as hell. Modern equipment can handle varying numbers of digits. Heck my FS2828 can handle various numbers of digits and it dates from when Mercury was 'the big new thing'!

    The fact 01202 is on that list explains why friends in Bournemouth are locked into full national dialling though, even for local calls.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh dear, 01223 my Cambridge exchange is on the list. Does that mean if I think I might ever want a second line (eg. for multi line bonding for more ADSL speed), I ought to get the number now in case they run out? (which makes running out more likely). Or can you have a broadband only line which doesn't have a number?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually suggested broadband only lines to BT ages ago. They could be allocated national numbers such as 012230 something.

      Delete
    2. We've been running out in Cambridge for at least the last 15 years -- all the BT lines I've ordered in that time period I've been warned that they can't allocate a number until the line's provisioned because there's a shortage.

      Delete
  8. RevK: Are you paying for any of these blocks yet? I presume it would make sense for you to get just one block (on one "exchange") than try to cover the lot?

    Anyway, if I can save you some money by spending 10p a month for a 'held' number, I'm game!

    ReplyDelete