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A New Handout for Phone Companies - Go-Anywhere 500 Numbers

July 10, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ The nation’s phone companies are lined up for the biggest number giveaway ever.

Beginning Monday, managers at Bellcore who administer the North American telephone numbering system will start assigning 500-numbers - such as 1-500-555-1234 - to companies like AT&T, Sprint, MCI, GTE, McCaw Cellular and several dozen others.

The companies will sell them, possibly as early as this fall, to people as ″go-anywhere″ or ″follow-me″ numbers. A person with different numbers for home, work or the car could give out a single 500 number.

″You would say, ‘Here is my one phone number, you can reach me on this phone number anywhere,’ ″ said Tom Mateer, director of wireless strategic development for Sprint.

At the outset, subscribers would have to forward their phones, for example, when they left home for the office. Later, AT&T, Sprint and others plan to offer a way for the numbers to automatically advance to different locations through the day.

Another idea is for the 500-number to ″search″ for the customer. It could ring twice at home first, twice at the office and twice in the car before going to voice mail if no one answered.

In time, the intelligence of the nation’s phone system will grow to the point where people can simply dial a code at the phones closest to them and their calls will arrive.

Subscribers would have to pay extra for 500-numbers but pricing has yet to be set. Despite that, AT&T announced last week it is signing up customers.

The first ″follow-me″ products came in 700-numbers several years ago. But they are restricted by phone carrier, meaning that reaching a friend who has a 700-number from AT&T requires a call on the AT&T network.

The 500-number will not have that restriction. And in a few years, the 500- numbers won’t be assigned to phone companies but be ″portable″ between them. Toll-free 800-numbers became portable last year, allowing customers to switch phone carriers and keep their numbers.

Bellcore, the research arm of the regional Bell operating companies, administers numbers on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission and an industry committee.

It will assign the 500-numbers by prefix codes, such as 555, 236 or 737. Bellcore has received requests for more than 1,000 prefix codes but there are only 781 available.

Initially, the maximum any company will receive is four. Since each prefix code has 10,000 possible suffixes (the four numbers that follow), a company that gets the maximum four will have 40,000 500-numbers to sell to the public.

″This allows everybody to have an initial quantity of codes to start up their service, see how sales are going and then come back to us,″ said Alfred Gaechter, a Bellcore manager.

He expects about half of the 781 available codes to be handed out this week. ″This is the largest event I’ve ever seen in the logs of numbering history,″ Gaechter said.

By contrast, 800-numbers dribbled out when service began 25 years ago.

The rest of the 500-numbers could be gobbled up by a year from now. But 500-numbers can handle just 7.8 million individuals, only 3 percent of the U.S. population.

There is, however, talk of creating 640 new area codes and many of those would be for ″follow-me″ services, meaning the 500-number won’t for long have the identity that the 800-number has with toll-free calling.

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