How do British people perceive phone numbers?

Freephone, Geographic numbers, Numbering, Ofcom, Premium Rate Services
About This Project

Ofcom, the UK’s telecoms regulator, recently published a qualitative study of the perception of telephone numbers by a representative sample of the British population.

Main conclusions of the study and comments on their relevance to France

Fixed telephony and geographic numbers, a matter for older people

  1. Fixed telephony only attracts older consumers.
  2. Older consumers attach great importance to geographic numbers and consider the geographic identity of the number as useful and trustworthy.
  3. Younger consumers are largely indifferent to fixed telephony because of their very low use of this means of communication.

It is likely that a similar study in France would lead to the same conclusions about the fact that the numbers will in the future be mobile numbers.


The pricing of service numbers should be simpler and easier to read

  1. Among microenterprises, the perceived value of geographic numbers and the identity of the location vary considerably, depending on whether their services are local or not.
  2. For non-revenue-sharing non-geographic numbers (080 and 03, the equivalent of freephone or unmarked toll numbers), higher levels of understanding and trust are evident when used by brands and organizations leading.
  3. Among micro-business owners, the numbers 080 and 03 (freephone) are generally not seen as possible alternatives to geographic numbers.
  4. Advertising for non-geographic numbers 084 and 087 (comparable to 081 and 082 in France) is viewed with suspicion by older consumers and may be an obstacle to their use.
  5. Awareness, understanding and trust in access charges and service charges for shared-revenue numbers (09, comparable to 089 in France) were generally very limited in the sample
  6. The use of enhanced 09 numbers for voting and high-profile contests has been widely accepted.

In France as in the United Kingdom, the perception of the numbers of services with added value is weakened by their lack of legibility, but when the legibility is very strong, a pricing can be accepted, as it is the case for the votes during television broadcasts.


Unsolicited suggestions from panel members include simplification of low-margin numbers and better signalling of freephone numbers

  1. From the point of view of consumers, very few spontaneous remarks have been made about possible future changes in geographical numbers. For unmarked or freephone numbers (03 or 080), a generalized and spontaneous request was made for the mandatory inclusion of tariff information confirming that these were free or standard tariff numbers.
  2. It seems necessary to clarify and considerably simplify billable amounts. The main concerns were the likelihood of confusion, especially given the apparent similarity of numbers 084, 087 and 080, as well as the perceived lack of transparency in the cost of calls.
  3. The ideas put forward were (i) a voice notification at the beginning of the call and not just in advertising, (ii) a clear indication of the likely duration of the call, and (iii) a single tax structure that standardizes access fees between suppliers. This would allow participants to make an informed choice based on the explicit view of the total cost of calls.

A study on the relevance in France of this part of the conclusions of the British study would be welcome, because, three years after the 2015 reform, it is not certain that the French public is more at ease than the British public  with the pricing of value-added services.


Faced with proposed scenarios, panel participants advocate little change in the short term, but are more open to medium-term changes

  1. On the basis of the responses to the future scenarios presented to them, the closure of the local numbering in all regions and the deletion of 084 and 087 would be widely accepted.
  2. At the same time, the loss of the geographical meaning of long-distance area codes and the removal of 09 for the high-profile areas of voting and telephone games are widely rejected.
  3. In the longer term, the study tends to show that consumers are increasingly accepting the loss of the geographical nature of numbers, as the use of fixed telephony is expected to decrease with the renewal of older generations. The study also shows a growing level of acceptance of the prospect of abolishing higher-rate numbers, while alternative micro-payment technology continues to develop or evolve.

In France, local numbering has disappeared long ago, but the attachment to the geographic significance of the numbers is probably comparable to what it is in the United Kingdom. As for what the public would think of a deletion of the numbers with higher rates, a study in France would not be too much.


Restore trust, renewed phone number proposal

What this study reveals is that telephony has won more competition than it has lost in innovation. People’s telephony has become mobile, but businesses need fixed telephony. These numbers may be free, unmarked or paid, but if paid, the signage must be extremely clear and simple. Nevertheless, OTT’s interpersonal communication systems have competed for innovations and free, paid for by the consumer by the loss of interoperability and portability (a Skype subscriber cannot call a Whatsapp subscriber , nor carry his ID from one to the other) and intrusion into his personal data algorithms of targeted advertising.

Will operators ever understand that they each sell a product 98% identical to that of other operators, but dumped in terms of innovation by OTTs? Instead of focusing on their differences, they’d better work together to enrich the promise of a phone number. This enrichment should focus on unified multimedia communication, via protocols such as RCS, on securing the number by technologies such as Stir / Shaken when there is no SIM card, and on a common organization that allows to share a higher level of trust in the identity of the caller.