Digits bowl phones out

Industry experts warn that private branch exchanges (PBXs) will reject the new four-digit codes, pushing up costs for companies because of routing errors.

Cellphone companies Vodacom and Vans — value-added network services, which are primarily Internet service providers that can operate their own infrastructure — have been allocated new number ranges by the regulator, in a move seen as the first step towards deregulating South Africa’s telecommunications market.

Vodacom has been granted the 0740 and 0749 prefix in addition to its other 082, 072, 076 and 079 codes.

Vodacom started using the 072 number range in 2000, the 076 in 2004 and 079 last year.

The new prefixes have been awarded in anticipation of future growth, but industry experts have warned that many company PBXs will reject the numbers.

Anton Potgieter, the managing director of TelePassport, which supplies telecommunications solutions for corporates, including least cost routing, said many companies’ PBX switches could not cope with four-digit codes.

MTN uses the 083, 073 and 078 prefixes, while Cell C uses 084.

Potgieter said many PBXs were not set up to accept four-digit codes, and calls would be rejected as invalid if the exchanges were not re- programmed.

He said some organisations had already programmed their PBX systems to route any 074 number to Cell C because of the Virgin Mobile 0741 prefix.

Virgin Mobile operates on the Cell C network in terms of its joint venture.

“Going to four-digit prefixes from three creates complexities.

“Everybody assumed that any 074 number would be allocated to Cell C, and most switchboards were programmed to send such calls to the Cell C router,” said Potgieter.

“If organisations don’t re-programme their systems, it could be costly for them as calls will be charged double because of incorrect routing.”

With more new number ranges on the cards, Potgieter said it would become tricky to manage PBXs, as calls could be sent to the wrong network, causing big losses to business.

Telecommunications analyst Khulekani Dlamini said the allocation of number ranges was done purely on request, and had nothing to do with network growth.

“Cell C could well have got the 0740 prefix if it saw a need to request a new number range.

“Whenever it decides to ask for one, Icasa will allocate it with an available one,” Dlamini added.

“There will be a lot of new number ranges being allocated, especially with the Vans being given the same number- range format.

“And with the international dialing code now a 00 prefix, it opens up a new range on the previous 09 code, which will be given to any operator.

“So anyone legally operating a Van and a mobile phone network will be allocated a number if they apply for it,” he said.

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Digits bowl phones out