The Campaign for real numbers

Sorry to rant about phones twice on the same day, but hopefully this will get something out of my system which has been has been bugging me for ages.

Really this is only aimed at British readers.

First some history. When "Subscriber Trunk Dialing" was introduced into Britain the Post Office came up with a simple system for long distance codes.  A leading zero told the it was calling another exchange. Most of the codes (with exceptions like 01 for London) used names of the telephone exchanges, A, B and C were on 2 on the phone dial so, Bath, Cardiff, Carlisle had codes 022x. R was on 7 so, Bristol Brighton and Bradford had 027x codes. Some were a bit odd - Oxford had 0865 - for university. There have been various re-vamps of the numbering system. London codes split into 071 and 081, then 0171 and 0181, then 020 7 and 020 8. Reading (among others) lost its identifiable number and became 0118   But 0 still tells the system that what follows is an area code.

International calls to the UK don't use the 0. If you call me from abroad you dial your local code for international, followed by 44 for the UK, 118 for reading, 9093080 for my phone at Microsoft. And convention - an ITU standard called E164 - says you write this +44 118 909 3080. The standard doesn't care if I write +441189093080 or +44 (118) 909-3080 spaces dashes and brackets are ignored. E164 numbers dial correctly from mobile phones - even when they've roamed to other countries so to facilitate use outside their home country numbers should be stored in E164 format.

However in Britain people started writing +44 (0) to mean "Dial international followed by +44 outside the UK, and 0 in Britain".  Nobody who lives in Britain needs to be told this any more, but it's actually harmful. +44 (0) 118 909 3080 looks like a valid  E.164 number to people or computers which expect one. Foreigners will dial the 0 and not connect and Smartphones and so forth in the the UK will turn the number into  0 (0) 118 909 3080  - which won't work. I read a lot of mail on my phone and that's only going to increase with some of the new features I expect to have soon (Thanks to Jason Langridge for that info). I hate it when I can't call someone about the mail I've just read because they put the wrong phone number in their mail signature.

So I thought why not do something about it. I've created a rule in outlook, and I encourage you to do the same. Here's the rule description.

  • Apply this rule after the message arrives
  • with+44(0) or +44 (O) in the body
  • have server reply using {specific message}

From: James O'Neill
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2007 16:37:50 +0000
Subject: The Campaign for real numbers

This response has been generated automatically because a message you sent me appears to contain a phone number in an incorrect format, probably in your signature.
• UK phone numbers should never be written as +44 (0), people outside the UK do not understand that this means “drop the 44 in the UK and dial 0, but outside drop the 0 and dial 44”
• Numbers written this way confuse SmartPhones (and other automated dialling systems), they will dial both +44 and the 0 so people who read your message on the move will have trouble contacting you.

Please make sure your number is in the correct format either with a zero on its own or with +44 and no zero – but if there is no such error in the message you sent please accept my apologies.

Eileen was showing Exchange 2007 transport rules on the Roadshow. I'd love to see organizations which run Exchange 2007 putting this in as a transport rule.

Comments (4)
  1. James ONeill says:

    I don’t think the Indian call centres get the number from anywhere you wrote it down, and their people propably deal with it enough to recognise it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Peter sent me a mail last week suggesting a blog post. "You mentioned in

  3. ian_pick says:

    If this was true, I wouldn’t ever get any cold calls from Indian call centres. Clearly it’s not enough to really fool them

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content