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, informs Reuters.
According to the Hindustan Times, on Monday UK telecoms industry regulator Ofcom said it would establish the prefix "056", allowing Britons 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.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom has welcomed the arrival of Voice over IP (VoIP), aka "Voice over Broadband" down at the telecoms regulator, and promised to stay well out of the way as services develop.
Ofcom chief exec Stephen Carter said: "Broadband voice services are a new and emerging market. Our first task as regulator is to keep out of the way. As the market develops, we will ensure that consumers are appropriately informed and protected."
Ofcom also announced a public consultation on what service guarantees and consumer protection should govern new providers.
Traditional fixed-line telcos must follow regulations like offering almost-guaranteed access to 999 services. The consultation runs until 15 November 2004, reports the Register.