The French regulatory authority ART has today published a consultation document addressing various possible short-term and long-term future evolutions of the numbering plan and of the associated number management rules.

VoIP and emerging nomadic usage are addressed, but the document is much more wide-ranging.

The 27-page document solicits input from interested parties to carry out an evaluation of the numbering situation as it has existed since 1998, including the introduction of 1-digit and 4-digit carrier selection codes, and asks fundamental questions about the role and functions of a numbering plan, in particular geographic location, information on service types, tariff information for consumers, the identification of called (fixed and mobile) network operators and service providers, the type of communication and/or device used (standard telephone call using traditional and new technologies, audiotex service, call centre, videophone call, etc.).

The future importance (or not) of nomadic usage of telephone and other services is clearly a major preoccupation for the ART, as this is mentioned extensively in the introductory sections of the document and separately thereafter. More generally, questions are asked about numbering for VoIP-enabled services, including the use of geographic numbers, the potential need for special number ranges, etc.

T-REGS note: in France, both geographic and non-geographic 087B numbers are currently in use for the provision of VoIP-enabled services.

Furthermore, the ART asks questions about the continued relevance (or not) of geographic telephone zones, the role and impact of number portability on a forward-looking basis, fixed-mobile convergence, personal numbers, the role of ENUM, etc.

The document even goes so far as to ask whether/when other types of addressing will replace numbers, and/or whether the telephone numbering plan will become a subset of a wide (e.g. IPv6) addressing system, and whether parts of the telephone numbering plan should be reserved for machine-to-machine communications.

As regards VoIP and geographic numbering, the ART puts forward two options:

Option 1: Maintaining the required link between geographic numbers and the ‘ZNE’ (Zone de Numérotation Elémentaire) telephone zones.

Option 2: Abandoning the required link, and allowing users to retain their telephone number while changing their geographic location throughout France.

The ART expresses its preference for Option 1, on the grounds that this ensures continuity with the current situation, and will be less disruptive (Option 2 could be problematic for legacy networks, could be costly for operators, and could require tariff adjustments). The ART also suggests that the size of geographic number blocks could be reduced from 10.000 numbers to 1.000 numbers, insofar as the historic operator France Télécom is technically able to implement this, OR that the size of ZNEs could be increased, which would allow operators to better utilise number blocks, and would be compatible with increased nomadic usage. The latter is presented as a possibly sensible intermediate choice between the current situation and the fully-fledged abandonment of geographic numbering.

Currently, French geographic numbers are only available for network operators, while certain types of other numbers (including carrier selection codes) are only available for network operators and/or for providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services (PATS), but not to other service providers. The ART asks interested parties whether these restrictions should be abolished, which new criteria could be introduced, and whether access to geographic numbers is essential to enable the development of certain new services.

As regards carrier selection codes, and in particular the 1-digit carrier selection codes (T-REGS note: this is a unique system in Europe, which was introduced by France in 1997 with associated conditions aimed at stimulating operators to roll-out infrastructure by new entrants), serious questions are asked about the continued relevance of the 1-digit codes (given the subsequent introduction of carrier preselection), and about the continued justification of limiting the 16XY carrier selection codes to a single code per operator. The ART even suggests that the 1-digit carrier selection codes could be phased out in 2007 rather than in 2012 as was originally planned. It then goes on to ask what could be done with the numbering resources that would be freed up by such a development.

Finally, the document addresses issues about 'human factor' ETSI standard dialling, ETNS numbers, including ‘116’ for pan-European services of general interest, and the ART invites interested parties to make any further comments they deem relevant about the short-term and long-term evolution of the numbering plan and of associated numbering rules.

The full text (in French) of the ART consultation document can be accessed by clicking here.

The deadline for responses is 26 Jan 2005.

For a discussion of numbering and number portability issues in France, please contact Yves Blondeel.