London calling: Ofcom to release new ‘(020) 4’ phone numbers

30 August 2019

London will gain 10 million more landline phone numbers later this year, as Ofcom introduces a new ‘(020) 4’ range to keep the capital connected.

As more new homes and offices are built in London, there is growing demand for new phone numbers. The capital, which has the 020 dialling code, currently has 30 million phone numbers allocated across the existing (020) 3, 7 and 8 ranges.

Ofcom allocates numbers for phone companies to provide services to their customers. But fewer than a million of these are left to be handed out, and these will be used up within a year as we distribute 30,000 London numbers each week.

People in the UK still spend 44 billion minutes making landline calls every year. And while usage is declining, most home broadband connections rely on a landline which needs a number. So, Ofcom is introducing a new number range for London to meet demand.

New London numbers

Telecoms providers can apply for '(020) 4' numbers via the Ofcom website, and will be able to start issuing these to customers by the end of the year.

We’re seeing growing need for 020 numbers, as London expands and new homes and offices are built. These 10 million new numbers will allow us to meet demand and help keep the capital connected. Liz Greenberg, Head of Numbering at Ofcom

History of London numbers

London’s area code has changed several times over the years.

In 1958 the city was allocated the single code 01, which remained until 1990 when it was replaced by two codes – 071 for inner London numbers, and 081 for outer London. Five years later, all UK area codes gained a ‘1’ after the ‘0’ to make it clear it was a landline number, and the capital’s codes changed to 0171 and 0181.

In 2000, the UK’s phone numbers were reorganised through the ‘Big Number Change’. London was given a single area code once again – 020 – and the inner and outer London divide was removed.

But five years later, Ofcom research uncovered a widespread misconception among Londoners that the city still had two area codes – 0207 and 0208. Only 13% of people, without prompting, correctly identified 020 as being London’s single area code.

10 million new London numbers will be available following the release of '(020) 4', the latest in several changes to London's area code.

How phone numbers evolved

In the early days of telephone calls, operators manually put callers through to each other. Phone numbers were designated based on the name of the local telephone exchange.

The first three letters of the exchange name were converted to the corresponding digits on the telephone dial. For example, you might have rung the operator and asked for “WIMbledon 0456”, which would have been converted to 946 0456.

So, there are still clues to the origins of certain phone numbers. Today, that number would be 020 7946 0456.

In the early days, you would use local telephone exchange codes to connect to the right number. Today, all of London shares a single area code (020).