A new batch of phone numbers will be assigned to accommodate the emerging market for cheap phone calls over the Internet, telecoms industry regulator Ofcom says. The voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone services are getting a boost in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia from broadband Internet access plans that allow users to make cheap, and even free, phone calls for a monthly subscription. The technology has been around for years but only recently has the sound quality improved enough to make it a viable offering for Internet service providers and cable television companies. On Monday Ofcom said it would establish the prefix "056", allowing phone users to switch from their existing 11-digit telephone number to a new Internet broadband 11-digit phone number. Customers would also be able to take a new 11-digit number beginning with the more recognisable regional prefixes "01" or "02", Ofcom said. Finally, select customers may be able to keep their existing 11-digit number after switching. Ofcom said it would leave number assignment to the Internet telephone providers, and that it would keep regulation of the emerging industry to a minimum to spur competition, informs Reuters. According to Guardian Unlimited, Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, announced yesterday that on top of the traditional landline prefixes and mobile phone numbers, people will now have to memorise a whole new set of phone numbers for calls via the internet. The prefix 056 is to be assigned as the area code for those who want to make telephone calls using a high-speed internet connection. The move comes in response to the growing market for cheap telephone calls made over the internet. The technology piggybacks on broadband connections and allows users to make cheap, or sometimes free, telephone calls in return for a monthly subscription. Internet service providers and cable companies now routinely offer internet telephone connections to their customers using voice over internet protocol (Voip). Ofcom said it believed Voip could lead to a sharp drop in call costs, since it costs far less to offer such services than it does to offer traditional telephone services. The regulator believes VOIP will benefit users from both a service and cost perspective, and that an increasingly competitive wholesale market and the relatively cheap cost of entry for startups should ensure a "wide range of providers." Ofcom also believes that providing geographic numbers for VOIP will also boost competition, as it will make it easier for users to switch from their current telephony provider and retain their number. The regulator has also created a new, non-geographic code, 056, specifically for VOIP. Making geographic numbers available is a massive boost for the voice-over-broadband sector, reckons operator Inclarity plc, which markets its VOIP service through resellers. Its research shows that 85 percent of business users would not use a voice-over-broadband service unless geographic numbers were available. And the Internet Telephony Service Providers Association (ITSPA), which represents a number of U.K. competitive service providers and ISPs, also welcomed Ofcom's news, saying that it removed "many of the uncertainties" for Internet telephony services, reports Light Reading.
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