Jamaica to get new country code: what does that mean?

In addition to 876, Jamaica will soon activate a second country code. This post outlines how country codes are used, what could have contributed to exhaustion of the current allocation, and what changes can be expected when the second code is introduced.

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/hddod/Earlier this week, the Gleaner newspaper in Jamaica reported that the local regulator, the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), had begun the process of acquiring an additional country code for Jamaica. According the organisation’s 2011—2012 Annual Report, it had reserved a new country code with the North American Number Plan Administration, the regional body responsible for the coordination and administration of the North American Numbering/Dialling Plans, and was in the process of preparing the implementation plan.

The new country code will be overlaid over the same geographic area that the current code covers. Hence both codes will cover Jamaica, and it would be possible for next-door neighbours to have different country codes.

Having said this, and recognising that numbers are considered a valuable national resource, how can a country of less than 2.7 million people exhaust a whole country code? Read on to find out.

Country codes 101

The Northern American Numbering Plan (NANP) is the basic numbering scheme for telecommunications networks in the United States, Canada and approximately 15 other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica.  The NANP uses three-digit country codes that direct telephone calls to particular countries or regions, where they are further routed on the local networks to the desired receiver.  Figure 1 shows the format or dialling plan used in Jamaica and other NANP countries.

Figure 1:  :Dialling Format Used in NANP Countries (Source: ICT Pulse)
Figure 1: Dialling Format Used in NANP Countries (Source: ICT Pulse)

Currently, for calls within Jamaica, similar to other Caribbean countries , a seven-digit number is dialled: a Central Office Code (CO Code) plus a Line Number. However, when calling internationally to countries covered by NANP, the dialling format comprises 10 digits:

1  + (country code) + (CO Code) + line number

Referring back to Figure 1, country codes and CO Codes are each three-digit numbers that can have combinations ranging from 200 to 999, which means that they can each generate up to 800 different codes combinations. On the other hand, Line Numbers can generate up to 10,000 different number combinations, ranging from 0000, to 9999.

Although there can be up to 800 different country codes, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) stringently manages their assignment to countries, and the case of Jamaica, only one, 876, was initially assigned. However,

  • under each country code, up to 800 CO Codes can be generated
  • for each CO Code, 10,000 four-digit Line Numbers can be generated, which means that 10,000 seven-digit telephone numbers can be assigned
  • hence, under each country code, up to 8 million unique telephone numbers can be created.

How can Jamaica exhaust so many numbers?

Like all countries or regions that have been assigned a country code under the NANP, Jamaica had up to 8 million numbers to assign to consumers (under country code 876) in order to access certain telecoms services. Although there would have been almost three times the numbers to the population, several factors have contributed to Jamaica’s imminent numbers exhaustion, which include the following:

  • Fixed telephony numbers. Numbers have been assigned to both LIME and Flow to provide fixed telephony service
  • Mobile/cellular numbers. Numbers have been assigned to both Digicel, LIME to provide mobile/cellular service
  • Lax resource management.  The regulator might have been overly generous with the number group assignments it approved. For example, the numbers previously assigned to Claro, would have been transferred Digicel following its sale to that company, and became part of the latter’s stable of numbers. Claro customers were not required to change their telephone numbers to what at the time were “Digicel numbers”, thus accelerating the numbers exhaustion.
  • Numbers churn.  All consumers do not keep their numbers active. A number becomes inactive for a number of reasons, such as loss of the device, discontinuation of service, and infrequent use. To minimise customer confusion and optimise processes, there is a considerable delay, which is usually in the region of six to twelve months, between when a number is considered inactive, and when it can be returned to the provider’s number pool for re-assignment or reuse. It therefore means that the provider must have a generous supply of numbers available to accommodate this churn process.

Finally, it is important to highlight that the absence of number portability would also have exacerbated the how numbers have been used in Jamaica. Whenever a customer decides to leave one provider in favour of another, the currently assigned number cannot be transferred, but essentially it is quarantined for several months until it can be reused.

What can Jamaicans expect when the new country code is introduced?

When the second country code is activated for Jamaica, the local telecoms sector and residents will all need to adapt to the new dialling format that will have to be introduced. Instead of the current seven-digit format, 10 digits will have to be dialled:

(country code) + (CO Code) + line number

Currently since all local numbers are under the same country code, there is no need to dial for intra-country calls. However, when a second code overlays the first, that assumption can no longer be made. Persons will have identical seven-digit numbers (CO Code + Line Number), and the only differentiator, to ensure accurate routing, will be the country code.


Image credit::  hddod (flickr)


1 Comment

  • It’s indeed interesting to note that Jamaica could be exhausting numbers and China, with over a billion people ( and ever rapidly growing subscriber base ) isn’t .

    This clarifies. So in other words, in the standard and common format : (Country Code)-(Regional Code)-(Subscriber Number) eg a Jamaican number (1)- (876)-(922-3XXX); a Chinese number (86)-(536)-(520-2XXX) Jamaica ( and other countries within the NPA scheme (ie those having “country” code 1 ) are treated like regional codes.

    Based on this, I foresee a lot of countries in te region ( within NPA ) applying for additional “country codes”. But that raises the question: are there ‘reserved” regional codes ( within NPA)? Eg 991 etc.

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