With four million mobile phone numbers set to be turned off this weekend, the body organising the changeover has admitted that the majority of people don't understand the changes.
The Big Number, an industry-backed group whose function is to inform the UK population about the changes, has warned that while most people know that some mobile phone numbers will stop working on Saturday there is widespread confusion as to what the new numbers will be. Under the changes, any mobile number which does not begin with 07 will be turned off, and replaced by an 07-based prefix.
According to Big Number, 53 percent of people think they will simply have to insert a 7 into the old number. This is simply not the case, as many prefixes will have changed altogether. For example, the old mobile code 01426 changes to 07626 whereas the code 0585 will become 07885.
The number changes are an attempt to cope with the growth in telecommunications demand in the UK. As well as grouping all mobile numbers under 07, special rate numbers will all begin with the 08 prefix and premium rate numbers will all start with 09.
The old and new mobile numbers have been running in parallel for the last 18 months, but there is concern that many people have not changed the numbers recorded in their address books and on their SIM cards.
Oftel, the UK's regulatory body, says it is happy about the situation. "We're confident that the changeover will run smoothly. The Big Number group have worked with consumer groups and the industry, as well as spending £20m on an advertising campaign over the last three years," a spokesman said.
However, other groups have been predicting that the changes will lead to widespread chaos.
Earlier this month, the Federation of Small Business (FSB) said it was concerned that many people were still unaware of the changes. "This will cause a lot of confusion and result in financial losses to many businesses," an FSB spokesman said.
The Telecommunications Users' Association (TUA) is also worried. It points out that vending machines and home alarm systems also use mobile communication systems, and predicts that many will not be able to alert suppliers that they need to be restocked, or warn of a break-in.
Steve Thorpe of the TUA told the Telegraph newspaper that there could be chaos tomorrow. "A lot of people are going to be very confused. It's not a straightforward switch-over and that hasn't sunk in with most people."
For details of the changes, go to www.numberchange.org or call 0808 224 2000.
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