22 October 2016
Mobile network operators hold large stocks of unallocated phone numbers. Photo: HKEJ
Mobile network operators hold large stocks of unallocated phone numbers. Photo: HKEJ

More than 5 mln mobile numbers starting with 4 may be released

Millions of Hongkongers could end up with phone numbers starting with the unpopular digit 4 as the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) tries to curb a shortage of mobile-phone numbers.

Hong Kong’s eight-digit mobile numbers could run out as soon as in three years’ time, am730 reported Friday.

OFCA is reportedly planning to increase the supply of available mobile-phone numbers by freeing up a reported 15.72 million numbers, to fulfill the demand for eight-digit numbers up to September 2028.

One of the proposed measures is to reallocate to mobile phones numbers that start with the digits 4 (normally used for prepaid cards), 7 (normally used for pagers) and 8 (normally used for the toll-free numbers of multinational companies). 

OFCA is now conducting a public consultation that will last two months and help the authority make a decision by the middle of next year on what measures to take.

The penetration rate for mobile-phone subscribers in Hong Kong is 229 percent, meaning that, on average, each man, woman or child in the city owns more than two mobile phones.

As an average of 130,000 mobile numbers are taken up each month, the 4.97 million still available will be used up by November 2018.

The authority said it could release 5.6 million new numbers that start with the digit 4, although that might not go down well with phone users, as the number is considered inauspicious in Chinese culture, in contrast to the number 8, which the Cantonese consider auspicious.

OFCA said it could supply an additional 980,000 new numbers that start with the digits 81, 82 and 83.

An OFCA study earlier suggested it would cost an additional HK$1.1 billion (US$140 million) for the authority to expand the format for mobile-phone numbers to nine digits.

The bulk of the expenses would be incurred in upgrading equipment and databases.

OFCA said it is inclined not to increase the number of digits, so as to minimize inconvenience.

The authority is planning to tighten up on mobile service operators maintaining large hoards of mobile numbers.

One operator is reportedly holding 1.75 million numbers, while the one with the fewest numbers is still sitting on 520,000.

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