With smartphone ownership increasing, and landline use continuing to fall, Ofcom’s latest research suggests remembering phone numbers – or even needing to dial them – is becoming a thing of the past.
In recent years, the amount of time we spend talking on the landline has nearly halved, while the amount of mobile data we use has increased almost tenfold.
In 2012, the UK made a total of 103 billion minutes of landline calls, but in 2017 that fell to just 54 billion.
Over the same period, mobile call minutes have increased steadily from 132.1 billion to 148.6 billion, but the average person’s monthly mobile data use has soared from 0.2 gigabytes to 1.9 gigabytes.
Reflecting these trends, a new qualitative study from Ofcom reveals changing attitudes to the traditional telephone number, including big differences between older and younger generations. The research found younger people now prefer to use messaging services, such as WhatsApp, rather than use their phones to talk. While older people still prefer having a conversation.
The study also reveals a big difference between older and younger generations in understanding area codes – for example, knowing that if someone calls you from a number beginning ‘01782’, they are calling from Stoke-on-Trent.
Younger people generally don’t feel strongly about whether area codes represent a particular location. In fact, many don’t even know that area codes have geographic significance, often mistaking them for other numbers and associating them with nuisance callers or call centres.
Older people, on the other hand, recognise what area codes are and trust the codes local to them. They are considered helpful and reassuring when searching for local businesses, and when making and receiving calls
So what’s the future for phone calls, changes in technology could revolutionise how phone numbers are used. In the coming years, it will become more common for calls to be made over broadband, rather than traditional telephone lines. Broadband-based call technology does not need area codes to tell it where to send a call, in the same way the traditional phone network does.
As part of the research, people were asked how they would feel about area codes losing their geographic meaning. Some younger people liked the idea of having greater freedom to own a number ‘for life’, seeing a number as part of a person’s identity. But older people are strongly against losing geographic meaning from area codes.
Ofcom has already begun looking at how UK landline telephone numbers could be managed more effectively in future, including the potential to use blockchain technology. This could make it quicker and easier for landline customers to switch providers while keeping their number, and potentially reduce nuisance calls.
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