What have freephone numbers around the world got in common?

Telecoms /

One sad thing about working in the telecoms industry is that you notice and think about phone numbers wherever you go. I’ve just come back from a trip to Italy and do you know one thing I noticed while I was out there?

There are a lot of 800 numbers advertised everywhere.

The same as 0800 numbers

As you can probably guess, 800 numbers are a Freephone range. Around the world, there are three main freephone number ranges; 800, 0800 and 1-800.

I was aware of 1-800 numbers, especially in the USA, and obviously 0800 numbers in the UK, but 800 numbers were actually new to me.

So it got me thinking. All these different freephone ranges around the world have 800 in them (at least the main ones). So out of all the possible number variations, why 800?

The introduction of 800 numbers

Freephone numbers were actually introduced in the UK in 1959 by, surprisingly, the Post Office - who at the time controlled the UK's telephone system.

A 'toll-free' service was introduced to the United States in 1967 by AT&T and was initially in use by companies like hotels and car rental companies.

However, it wasn't until the mid-eighties that 0800 and 1-800 numbers were introduced and became popular.

And in 1997, Universal International Freephone Number (UIFN) was introduced as a world-wide freephone/toll-free 800 number. Currently around 65 different countries participate in using these numbers.

So why 800?

I've no idea. In all the research I did, I couldn't find anything to suggest why 800 was the chosen number range. It seems that 0800 and 1-800 numbers were introduced around the same time, so it's possible it was just a joint decision between providers.

But regardless, finding out some of the history of freephone numbers was pretty interesting.

David Orrell