Once again, there is not enough capacity within the nation’s
telephone network to handle the burgeoning demand for voice and data
traffic, meaning at least 22 million phone numbers have to change - for
the third time in ten years in London.
Numbers in Coventry, Southampton, Portsmouth and Cardiff are also
affected and 21 other urban centres will need to be looked at soon.
The announcement by Oftel was generally greeted with dismay and
Most publications noted that Oftel had gone ahead with these changes
against strong objections from the Commons Trade and Industry
Oftel took cover under the bland rational argument that its ’primary aim
is to ensure there is sufficient capacity on the network’. With a pounds
20 million budget assigned to the job, it should have done better.
Not being strategically minded enough to foresee these capacity
shortfalls early enough is one issue. Inconveniencing 22 million users
across the country, adding costs and impacting upon national
productivity is another.
And doing this for the third time in a decade in one of the world’s most
important capital cities is plain incompetence.
Apart from these issues, Oftel did a poor job of communicating to the
public. No contrition, concern or empathy was expressed for users.
Tempering these negatives, however, was the fact that one important
message got through: that the new numbers would run in parallel with the
old until April 2000.
Oftel also missed a trick by failing to link the change with the more
exciting reasons behind it: the explosive growth in data and internet
traffic and rapid development of the networked society. In the process,
it could have positioned itself as a facilitator and enthusiastic
participant in the process, one which is taking the public’s interests
Announcing change is always a tricky matter and major public
announcements are always challenging.
Understanding the issues, motivations and concerns of the audiences and
developing appropriate messages are part and parcel of the
But on this occasion, Oftel’s messages came through as bland and
The challenge of the announcement was not met well, and potential
benefits to its reputation were not exploited.