46. Telephone Number Reform

To introduce a permanent period of stability in telephone number assignments without requiring customers to change their telephone numbers or even to dial additional digits (other than their existing country and area codes), some structural changes would need to be made, especially by the phone companies.

Pressing “Send” Required

First, it should be required that telephone users press a “send” button (as required for cell phones) in order to signal to the phone company that dialing has been competed and to forward the call. Currently assigned telephone numbers would remain the same. However, if the phone company finds it too difficult or expensive to use the new infrastructure required by these changes to allow customers to reach the people they are calling without dialing the country and area codes, the phone company may require these codes to be dialed as a standard practice for all calls, even local calls. Because users would be required to press the ‘send’ button to forward each call, the telephone company would know when the user has finished dialing all the numbers necessary to reach the intended party. Thus, there would be no need to reserve certain numbers like 911, 411, etc., because unless the user pressed the “send” button right after dialing these digits, the phone company would know that these numbers are just the first part of a longer sequence of numbers. This alone would result in several tens of thousands of new numbers becoming available.

Increase (or Variate) Number of Dialed Digits

Again, after the necessary infrastructures have been set up by the phone companies, they could start issuing 12 digit numbers which itself has a maximum capacity of one trillion possible numbers. Though this would obviously permanently solve our problems of ever running out of numbers worldwide (including consideration for the increased use of the Internet for communications), many people may not want to dial twelve numbers, though it would only be one more digit when compared to our current system of eleven digits when the country and area codes are factored in.

Fortunately, because of the “send” button, telephone numbers could be of any length from one digit to twelve or more digits, again, once the telephone companies’ infrastructures support these types of numbers. The capacity of 10 digit numbers is ten billion, while the capacity of 9 digit numbers is ten times less, one billion. It would be theoretically possible to have one digit telephone numbers.

Non-Standard Length Objections Resolved

The most common objection may be that telephone numbers of different lengths could be confusing because people may not be certain that they have all the necessary digits required to call the party they have in mind, whereas today everyone knows that seven digits must be dialed as well as area codes if necessary. Though this is a valid objection, it is the same kind of problem that exists with reference to e-mail addresses which are not of standard lengths. Over time people will just get used to the new system.

All in all, these proposed change would result in a maximum of over an additional 1.1 trillion different telephone numbers worldwide. That’s over 120 different numbers for each person on the planet today. If we need more, we could just start implementing 13 or more digit dialing or include alphabetical and other characters.

Perhaps a future evolution of the telephone system would include alphabetical letters so that instead of punching in numbers on a keypad, people could actually type in the name of the person they want to call. This would simplify life by requiring the memorization or utilization of one less piece of information. Alphanumerical combinations could also be possible.

Another option would be to add a letter at the front or end of a telephone number such as H for home, W for work, C for cellular, etc. Such a telephone number may look like H-1-310-123-4567. Capacity may be increased so much in some areas that even the requirement to dial the area code could be eliminated. This would allow one main phone number to serve many different devices. (Main idea from Bruce M. Gale, L.A. Times 6-15-99)

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