Japan’s communications ministry plans to create 10 billion 14-digit phone numbers in response to fears that the country’s 11-digit numbers could run out by 2022. Japan Times reports that the proposal has already been approved by the country’s three major mobile operators — NTT Docomo, KDDI, and SoftBank — and the new numbers could be introduced before the end of 2021.
The 10 billion numbers will start with “020,” the prefix that Japan currently uses for Internet of Things devices. Despite only being introduced at the beginning of 2017, 32.6 million out of the country’s 80 million “020” numbers had already been assigned as of the end of March 2019. With Japan’s 5G network due to launch in 2020, the amount of connected devices is likely to increase, putting more pressure on the amount of numbers available.
This isn’t a problem specific to Japan. Back in 2014 in the UK, callers in certain areas started having to include a five-digit area code prefix when they made a call, even if it was local, after numbers in those areas started to run out. More recently, the UK’s telecoms regulator Ofcom has begun investigating whether to drop area codes entirely in response to the country’s move toward IP-based telephone networks.
As the world’s 5G networks launch in the coming years and Internet of Things devices become more common, Japan won’t be the only country rethinking how to produce enough numbers for every device on its networks. Longer numbers make a lot of sense for IoT devices, which will never have to be called by humans, but it could be more challenging to find a solution for traditional phones.