Toll-free telephone number
A toll-free, Freecall, Freephone, 800, 0800 or 1-800 number is a special telephone number which is free for the calling party, and instead the telephone carrier charges the called party for the cost of the call. A toll-free number is identified by a service access code, from a dialing prefix range similar to a geographic area code, such as "800". The specific service access numbers can vary by country.
The capabilities of toll-free services have evolved as telephone networks have moved from electro-mechanical call switching to fully computerized stored program controlled networks.
For example, in today's computerized networks, use of a toll-free number often allows for capture of telephone numbers of incoming calls. In the United States, for example, toll free numbers usually capture the telephone number of the caller through automatic number identification, which is independent of caller ID data and captures caller information even if caller ID is blocked.
- 1 History
- 2 Growth of 800 toll-free numbers as a business tool
- 3 Vanity numbering
- 4 North America
- 5 China
- 6 Australia
- 7 Netherlands
- 8 United Kingdom
- 9 Universal International Freephone numbers
- 10 Freephone around the world
- 11 See also
- 12 References
Originally, a call billed to the called party had to be placed through a telephone company operator as a collect call. The operator had to secure acceptance of the charges at the remote number before manually completing the call.
A few large businesses and government offices received large numbers of collect calls, which proved time consuming for operators.
Manual toll-free systems
Prior to the development of automated toll-free service many telephone companies provided a manual version of caller free service.
Examples of operator-assisted toll-free calling include the Zenith number introduced in the 1950s in the US and Canada, as well as the original manual 'Freephone' service introduced by the British Post Office in 1960.
Both systems were similar in concept. The calling party would ring the operator (now '100' in the UK, '0' in Canada/USA) and ask for a specific free number. In the US, the caller would ask for a number like "Zenith 1-2345" (some areas used "Enterprise" or "WX" instead of "Zenith", but in the same pattern of a free service name and a five-digit number). In the UK, the caller would ask the operator to ring "Freephone" and a name or number (such as "Freephone Crimebusters" to pass on tips about a crime to the constabulary).
In either case, the operator would look up the corresponding geographic number from a list and place the call with charges reversed.
A Zenith number typically was available from a predefined area, anything from a few nearby cities to a province or state, and was listed in local directories in each community from which the subscriber was willing to accept the charges for inbound calls.
Until the introduction of InWATS toll-free service by the Bell System on May 2, 1967 and the Linkline (later "Freefone") 0800 services by British Telecom on 12 November 1985, manually ringing the operator was the standard means to place a toll-free call. More than a few established manual "Freephone" or "Zenith" numbers remained in use for many years after competing automated systems (0800 in UK, 1-800 in US) were deployed in parallel for new toll-free numbers.
Initial direct-dial systems
An automated toll-free service was introduced by AT&T on May 2, 1967 as an alternative to operator-assisted collect calling and manual "Zenith" or "Enterprise" numbers. This Inward Wide Area Telephone Service (InWATS) allowed calls to be made directly from anywhere in a predefined area by dialling the prefix 1-800- and a seven-digit number.
The system was primitive by modern standards. It initially provided no support for Automatic Number Identification and no itemised record of calls, instead requiring subscribers obtain expensive fixed-rate lines which included some number of hours of inbound calling from a "band" of one or multiple states or provinces. Early InWATS 800 calling lacked the complex routing features offered with modern toll-free service. The three digit exchange following the 800 prefix was linked to a specific destination carrier and area code; the number itself corresponded to specific telephone switching offices and trunk groups. All calls went to one central destination; there was no means to place a toll-free call to another country.
Despite its limitations (and the relatively high cost of long distance in that era), the system was adequate for the needs of large volume users such as hotel chains, airlines and hire car firms which used it to build a truly national presence.
For small regional businesses who received few long-distance calls, the original InWATS was prohibitively expensive. As a fixed-rate bulk service requiring special trunks, it was suited only to large volume users.
Modern direct-dial systems
Modern toll-free service became possible when telephone companies replaced their electro-mechanical switching systems with computerized switching systems. This allowed toll-free calls to be routed based on instructions located in central databases.
In the United States, AT&T engineer Roy P. Weber from Bridgewater, New Jersey filed for U.S. Patent No. 4,191,860 on July 13, 1978, which was issued March 4, 1980, and assigned to AT&T. Weber's invention, called a 'Data Base Communication Call Processing Method', was initially deployed by AT&T in 1982. The called number was an index into a database, allowing a 'Toll-Free Call' or '800 Call' to be directed anywhere.
In the United Kingdom, BT introduced "Linkline" on 12 November 1985. No more need to manually ring the operator, two new prefixes 0800 (an automated toll-free service which became "Freefone") and 0345 (a shared-cost service marketed as "Lo-Call" because initially its rates resembled those of local calls) could be reached by direct dial.
Growth of 800 toll-free numbers as a business tool
The North American +1-800 toll free area code, as originally implemented in the 1960s, was technologically primitive. Instead of providing detailed, per-minute billing of incoming calls, it relied on a flat-rate long distance plan (the Wide Area Telephone Service) which used special lines. The toll-free subscriber was required to lease enough inbound lines, with flat-rate inbound long distance on each, to handle the anticipated +1-800 call volume. US interstate toll-free coverage was sold in "bands" or zones, numbered 1 (adjacent states) through 5 (cross-country, entire continental US). The higher the band, the more expensive the line. Band 3 reached halfway across the US in every direction, so would suffice to cover all 47 states (AK and HI excluded, intrastate covered separately on another number) if the call centre were in the geographic centre of the US... in Nebraska. The initial call centres gravitated by necessity to this one arbitrarily central point.
The first company to use toll-free lines hosted numbers for major companies. Americana Hotels, Budget Rent a Car, Hyatt Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Rodeway Inns, Sheraton Hotels, and Quality Inn were a few of the major companies hosted. They grew very quickly but still went out of business. When this happened, all the major players reacted by leasing space in and behind that original call center location (93rd and Bedford in Omaha, Nebraska) in strip malls so they could continue to answer their toll-free calls and also rehire the already-trained staffing and management. Northwestern Bell and AT&T dedicated staff to the 'Res City' area and their staff actually had offices located in the same strip malls to help make the transition and service the accounts going forward. That corner of 93rd and Bedford became known as 'Res City' because of all the call centers taking reservations there.
As the call centers continued to compete for the same talent pool, the larger chains relocated into buildings specifically built for them near the area while others moved outside of the state to avoid the direct competition for staffing.
Northwestern Bell and AT&T continued to cater to the businesses in Omaha and would activate service within 24 hours for clients in Omaha, giving Omaha a major advantage over other locations that would have to wait weeks for service. In 1983, Northwestern Bell and AT&T in conjunction with Telesystems and First Data Resources/WATS Marketing, developed a method to use Direct Inward Dialing (DID) to handle traffic so call centers no longer had to have dedicated lines or trunk groups as they are called, to handle each telephone number. This was a major improvement in call center call flow design and this type of called number identification is still used by call centers today
IN-WATS service had some limitations. Billing for IN-WATS was based on average hours usage per line per month. This type of billing required users to adjust their active lines based on actual peak hour usage to avoid buying hours at higher low tier rates. Also users could not obtain call detail information on the calls received without paying for special studies completed weeks after the calls had been received.
From 1967 until around 1986, two years following the 1984 AT&T breakup, AT&T had an absolute monopoly on assigning 800 numbers to subscribing customers.
During 1985 and 1986, the FCC and the Federal Courts which oversaw the divestiture of AT&T and subsequent developments in the telecom industry ordered an eventual fully competitive portable numbering system for toll-free numbers. The local Bell telephone companies (now separated from AT&T) and Bellcore would manage the databases for full number portability. However, it would take some time before this system could be fully developed, tested, and implemented across the country. No firm date was determined at that time for activating this database system nor the management of such a system. New methods of telephone network signaling systems (SS7) were still under development and still needed to be implemented. In the meantime, starting about 1986, the Federal Government ordered Bellcore to assign specific 800-NXX codes to specific long-distance carriers. Thus, from 1986 to 1993 Toll-Free customers were locked into a system that led them to the telephone carrier like AT&T or MCI that assigned them their 800 number, based on the first six-digits (the 800-NXX code) of their full 800 number. By 1991 the FCC ordered that by May 1, 1992, full number portability would need to be in place nationwide, since the number database system and various peripherals and administrative functions were now available throughout the country. However, shortly before May 1992, the FCC and the telephone industry determined that the full implementation would need to be postponed for another year. May 1, 1993 was the actual date when full 800 number portability was effective throughout the US. Canada fully joined in the US 800 number portability system a year later in May 1994. Canadian 800 service developed in parallel with US 800 service in the 1960s and 70s, and by 1984, "crossborder" US/Canada 800 service finally became available, where (upon the called customer's option), a US-based 800 number could now be called from Canada, and vice-versa, a Canadian-based 800 number could now be called from the US.
800 Number Portability means that toll-free numbers are no longer associated with a particular telephone carrier such as AT&T or MCI. 800 subscribers can switch to another carrier without changing their toll-free number. Before toll-free number portability, toll-free subscribers were locked into their carriers, based on the 800-NXX code, the first six-digits of their 800 number. They could not change those carriers without changing their 800 numbers. Starting in the early 1990s, Toll-Free 800 Service became a viable business tool with the use of Vanity Numbers such as 1-800-FLOWERS. With these changes, rates have continued to fall and the majority of large users are now buying toll-free services for less than 2 cents per minute.
In 1985, British Telecom in the United Kingdom started using 0800 (Freefone) and 0345 (local-rate) numbers with Cable and Wireless also using 0500 and 0645, in much the same way, just a few years later.
A toll-free vanity number, custom toll-free number, or mnemonic is a 1-800 telephone number that is easy to remember because it spells something and means something like 1-800-FED-INFO. A vanity number, being a phoneword, is easier to remember than a numerical phone number such as 1-800-348-7934. Businesses use easy recognizable 1-800 vanity numbers as both a branding and a direct response tool in their advertising (radio, television, print, outdoor, etc.).
In North America, US FCC regulations state that allocation of numbers is first come, first serve; this gives vanity number operators who register as RespOrgs a strong advantage in obtaining the most valuable phonewords (as they have first access to newly-disconnected numbers) and places individual local businesses at a disadvantage. In Australia, premium numbers (such as the 13.. series, or the vanity phone words) are distributed by auction separately from the administrative procedure to assign random, generic numbers from the available pool.
In toll-free telephony, a shared-use number is a vanity number (usually a valuable generic phoneword) which is rented to multiple local companies in the same line of business in different cities. These appear in Australia (1300 and 1800) and North America (+1-800- and its overlays); in the US, the RespOrg infrastructure is used to direct calls for the same number to different vendors based on the area code of the calling number.
As one example, a taxi company could rent shared use of +1-800-TAXICAB in one city. The number belongs to a company in Van Nuys, California, but is redirected to local cab companies on a city-by-city basis and promoted by being printed on everything from individual taxi cab hub caps to campaigns against drunk driving. Another example is Mark Russell's +1-800-GREATRATE, a shared-use number rented to lenders in various cities nationwide for a monthly fee.
One former Mercedes dealer obtained +1-800-MERCEDES, charging other dealers to receive calls to that number from their local areas. The auto maker unsuccessfully sued MBZ Communications of Owatonna, Minnesota, operated by former Mercedes dealer Donald Bloom, alleging deception and trademark infringement. Mercedes was ultimately forced to obtain a different number, +1-800-FOR-MERCEDES, for its national call centre.
A company renting +1-800-RED-CROSS at a premium price to individual local Red Cross chapters as 'shared use' was less fortunate; the Federal Communications Commission reassigned that number to the Red Cross as an emergency response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Shared use can be used as a means to circumvent restrictions on warehousing, hoarding and brokering toll-free numbers as technically the number is not being sold, only rented one city or region at a time. The practice is nonetheless potentially problematic as it leaves local businesses advertising numbers which they do not own and for which they therefore have no number portability. The cost per minute and per month is typically far higher for a shared-use number than for a standard tollfree vanity number which a local business controls outright and there is little protection if the shared use company fails to meet its obligations or ceases operation.
There are also technical limitations; voice over IP users in particular are difficult to geolocate as their calls may be gated to the public switched telephone network at a point hundreds or thousands of miles away from their actual location. A roaming mobile or Internet telephone user is effectively (like the user of a foreign exchange line) attached to a distant rate centre far from their physical address.
Toll-free numbers in the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) are commonly called "800 numbers" after the original area code which was used to dial them. They include the area code 800 since 1967, 888 (since 1996), 877 (since 1998), 866 (since 2000), 855 (since 2010), and 844 (December 7, 2013). Area codes reserved for future expansion include 833, 822, 880 through 887, and 889.
The original +1-800 code operated for over thirty years before its 7.8 million possible numbers were depleted, but new toll-free area codes are being depleted at an increasing rate both by more widespread use of the numbers (voice-over-IP, pocket pagers, residential and small business use) and widespread abuse by RespOrgs and subscribers who stockpile the numbers for use in misdial marketing (PrimeTel Communications alone ties up millions of numbers), response tracking for individual advertisements (each ad from each client gets a different freephone number) or sale, lease or shared use (brokering numbers for sale is illegal, but renting a number or part of a number circumvents these regulations as FCC enforcement is sporadic to minimal).
Some regular area codes may be deceptively similar to toll-free prefixes (e.g., 801, 818, 860, etc.). These similarities have also been exploited by fraudsters in international locations that can be direct-dialed with what appear at first glance to be domestic area codes, including 809, 829, and 849, which are official prefixes for the Dominican Republic and 876 which is the area code for Jamaica. Toll-free numbers are also sometimes confused with 900-numbers, for which the telephone company bills the callers at rates far in excess of long-distance service rates for services such as recorded information or live chat.
These toll-free numbers can normally be called from any phone in Canada or the US, though the owner (and sometimes the provider) can put restrictions on their use. Sometimes they accept calls only from either Canada or the US, or even only from certain states or provinces. Some are not accessible from payphones. Calls from payphones assess the toll-free owner an additional fee in the USA as mandated by the FCC. Although toll-free numbers are not accessible internationally, many phone services actually call through the USA, and in this case the toll-free numbers become available. Examples of these services are the MCI Worldphone international calling card and any US-based Internet telephone gateway. However, many calling card services charge their own fee when their toll-free numbers are used to make calls, or when their toll-free numbers are used from pay phones.
From many countries (such as the UK), US toll-free numbers can be dialed, but the caller first gets a recorded announcement that the call is not free; in fact, on many carriers, the cost of calling a 'toll-free' number can be higher than to a normal number.
US toll-free numbers could at one time be accessed from certain other countries (such as México) on a paid basis by replacing the 800 by 880, 888 by 881, and 877 by 882. Thus, to reach 1-800-xxx-yyyy from a country outside its toll-free coverage area, 1-880-xxx-yyyy could be dialed. This is no longer true; areas codes 880, 881 and 882 have since been reclaimed for future use.
In addition, US toll-free numbers may be accessed free of charge regardless of the caller's location by some IP telephone services.
How toll-free calls are handled by operators
In the US and Canada, both interexchange carriers (IXCs) such as Sprint/Nextel, AT&T Inc., and Verizon, and Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) such as Verizon and AT&T offer toll-free services. The way that a toll-free number is handled depends on whether it is a domestic or interexchange call. Most countries are divided into regions called exchanges, and within each exchange a local telephone company handles all phone services. Intraexchange calls, which do not leave the individual region, would be managed by the individual local telephone company. However, those that cross exchanges – such as a call that originates in one country and is made to another country – are referred to as interexchange calls. These are typically managed by the country’s respective Telecommunication Administration, which routes the call as is appropriate.
The format of the toll-free number is called a non-geographic number, in contrast to telephone numbers associated with households which are geographic. (Since the advent of cell phones and voice over IP, households can have any area code in the USA—it is still geographic in the sense that calls from that area code are considered local, but the recipient can be physically anywhere). In the latter case, it is possible to determine an approximate location of the caller from the area code (e.g. New York or London). Toll-free numbers in contrast could be physically located anywhere in the world.
When a toll-free number is dialed, the first job of the telephone operator is to determine where the actual physical destination is. This is achieved using the intelligent network capabilities embedded into the network.
In the simplest case, the toll-free number is translated into a regular geographic number. This number is then routed by the telephone exchange in the normal way. More complicated cases may apply special routing rules in addition such as Time of Day routing.
Technical description of toll-free number routing in the U.S.
The IXCs generally handle traffic crossing boundaries known as LATAs (Local Access and Transport Areas). A LATA is a geographical area within the U.S. that delineates boundaries of the LEC. LECs can provide local transport within LATAs. When a customer decides to use toll-free service, they assign a Responsible Organization (RESPORG) to own and maintain that number. The RESPORG can be either the IXC that is going to deliver the majority of the toll-free services or an independent RESPORG.
Taking a closer look, when a toll-free number is dialed, each digit is analyzed and processed by the LEC. The toll-free call is identified as such by the service switching point (SSP). The SSP is responsible for sending call information to the service control point (SCP), routing the request through at least one signal transfer point (STP) in the Signalling System 7 (SS7) network. SS7 is a digital out-of-band method of transmitting signaling (call control) information in the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The SS7 network is a packet-switched network carrying signaling data (setup and tear down of the call and services) separate from the circuit-switched bearer network (the payload of the telephone call) in the AIN services network. The SSP asks the SCP where to send the call.
The LEC will determine to which IXC that number is assigned, based on the customer's choice. Toll-free numbers can be shared among IXCs. The reason a customer might do this is for disaster recovery or for negotiating a better price among the carriers. For example, a customer may assign 50% of their traffic to Sprint and 50% to AT&T. It's all up to the customer.
Once the LEC determines to which IXC to send the call, it is sent to the IXCs point of presence (POP). The IXCs SCP must now determine where to send the call. When it comes to routing, the SCP is really the brains of the long distance network. Once the final determination of where the call is supposed to go is completed, the call is then routed to the subscriber's trunk lines. In a call center or contact center environment, the call is then typically answered by a telephone system known as an automatic call distributor (ACD) or private branch exchange (PBX).
The subsequent routing of the call may be done in many ways, ranging from simple to complex depending on the needs of the owner of the toll-free number. Some of the available options are:
- Time-of-Day (TOD) Routing. One of the simplest ways to influence the destination of the call is by using time-of-day routing. An example of using TOD routing would be a company with a call center on the east coast and a call center on the west coast. TOD routing would enable Follow the Sun routing. The east coast center opens first and calls are sent to that destination earlier in the day. As the time changes across the country, expanded coverage would be offered by the call center in the west.
- Day of Week (DOW) or Day of Year (DOY) Routing. Depending on the day of the week and business practices, not all call centers operate 24x7. Some centers may be closed for weekends or holidays. DOW routing allows alternate routing for calls that arrive on specific days. DOY routing allows for alternate routing on fixed holidays (example December 25).
- Area Code or Exchange Routing. Toll-free traffic may also be routed depending upon the location of the caller. For instance, if a company has call centers in the north and in the south, they may express a preference to have their southern callers speak with people in the southern call centers. Companies may also wish to take advantage of the difference in interstate rates versus intrastate rates. For example, the cost of a telephone call across multiple states may be less expensive than a call within a state, and as a result, the ability to route a call originating in Michigan to a call center outside of Michigan can save a company substantial amounts of money.
- Least-Cost Routing is a variant of area code / exchange routing in which an independent RespOrg sends calls via different carriers based on which is least expensive for any given origination point. The RespOrg is not the carrier. A Canadian carrier could be used for Canadian calls and a US carrier for American calls; a user with many inbound local voice over IP numbers in multiple cities could convert toll-free calls on one main toll-free number to local calls in each city where it has a point of presence.
- Percentage Allocation Routing. If a company has multiple call centers, the company can choose to route calls across a number of call centers on a percentage basis. For example, an airline with ten call centers may choose to allocate 10% of all incoming traffic to each center.
- All-Trunks-Busy Routing. If at a given time, a company's trunk facilities can no longer handle the incoming traffic, an alternate destination may be chosen. This assists companies handling unexpected call volumes or during crisis times.
- Ring No Answer Routing. Some carriers have the ability to pull a call back into the network if the call is not answered. This provides for contingency routing for calls that ring and are not answered at the final destination.
- Emergency or Disaster Routing. Companies usually have some type of disaster plan to deal with both natural (e.g. floods, fires and earthquakes) and man-made (e.g. bomb threats) emergencies. IXCs can provide alternate destinations should any of these situations occur.
- Take Back and Transfer / Transfer Connect / Agent Redirect. If a company uses an ACD to facilitate the transfer, the ACD will remain in the call as long as the parties are on the phone. The drawback is that this uses up trunk capacity on the ACD (or VRU). This is called by a number of names including hair-pinning or tromboning. IXCs have the capability to allow a company to answer a call, provide a level of service, and then transfer the call to another location. These IXC features provide a level of transferring that is different from what is available via the ACD. There is usually a feature charge associated with this offering.
All of the above routing features are sometimes referred to as static routing features. These routes are put in place and are not usually changed. If changes are required, a customer usually has several options to make changes. A customer can call the IXC or an independent RESPORG directly via a special toll-free number to make changes, or a customer may be able to make changes through direct access to the network via a dedicated terminal provided by the IXC.
Assignment of NANP toll-free telephone numbers
Toll-free telephone numbers in the NANP are regulated by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 52 Section 101. RespOrgs assign the numbers in the "SMS/800" database. SMS/800, Inc. administers this database as the Number Administration and Service Center (NASC), as a subcontractor for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
800 toll-free numbers
- 800 toll-free numbers are commonly called "800 免费电话". The official name is "被叫集中付费业务" (called party collect paid service), which means the cost of the call is borne not by the caller but by the party receiving the call.
- 800 toll-free numbers in China are ten-digit numbers beginning with "800". There is no prefix before "800".
- 800 toll-free numbers are not accessible to mobile network subscribers and some land-line subscribers. For instance China Tietong Telecom land-line users cannot access to 800 numbers.
400 toll-free numbers
- 400 service is called "主被叫分摊付费业务" (calling party and called party split-paid service), which means the calling party pays for the local access fee and the called party pays the toll (long distance) fee.
- 400 toll-free numbers in China are ten-digit numbers beginning with "400".
- 400 toll-free numbers can be accessed by all fixed-line and mobile phones.
- Callers have to bear local access charges from their service providers.
- 400 toll-free numbers with prefix "4001" are international toll-free numbers which can be routed to destination numbers inside or outside of China. 400 toll-free numbers with prefix "4000", "4006", "4007" or "4008" are national toll-free numbers which can be routed to China destination numbers only.
Differences between 800 and 400 numbers in China
- Calling a 800 number is free of charge. Calling a 400 number incurs local access charge.
- 800 numbers are accessible only to land-line subscribers, while 400 numbers are accessible to all land-line and mobile users.
Toll-Free (usually referred to as Free Call or Free Phone)
- Toll-Free numbers in Australia are ten-digit numbers beginning with the prefix "1800".
- 1800 numbers can be also found in Phonewords via an online auction.
- For all types, the recipient business pays for incoming toll charges.
- In some cases, 1800 numbers can be accessed from international lines.
- Callers to an 1800 number are not charged a connection fee from a domestic fixed line. Calls from a mobile phone may incur charges depending on the provider.
Local Rate numbers
A system similar to 1800 numbering exists where 6 or 10 digit numbers prefixed with 13 (one-three), 1300 or 1301 (colloquially one-three-hundred) can be called at local call rates regardless of location.
- Callers to 13 number are charged a "connection fee" by their telephone provider.
- 13 and 1300 numbers are often "smart routed" to the local outlet of chain stores or fast food premises. They may also be used by different companies in different regions.
- 13 numbers, 1300 numbers and 1800 numbers are relocatable across Australia, and can be transferred between different telecommunications suppliers.
- 13 numbers are a premium number scheme, subject to charges from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) of approximately $10,000 per annum collected by the supplying carrier.
- Premium numbers, such as those that spell a word using keypad letters, are regularly auctioned by the ACMA
- Mobile callers are charged to phone a 1300 number or 1800 number, usually at their normal per minute rate, but sometimes at predatory rates. These expensive numbers can be decoded to ordinary landline via http://www.e164.org/non-search.php and organisations usually offer a landline number on their websites, though it may be hard to find.
- Smart routed 1800 or 13(00) numbers often do not work on mobile telephone due to issues with owners of the numbers barring incoming calls from mobile devices due to higher call charges associated with such calls.
In the United Kingdom, toll-free telephone numbers are generally known as "freephone" numbers (British Telecom numbers are officially Freefone) and begin with the prefixes 0800, 0808 or the Cable & Wireless Freecall prefix 0500. The most commonly used prefix is 0800. Additionally, numbers in the range 0808 80x xxxx are reserved for not-for-profit helplines.
0800 and 0808 are free for landline users, but may cost up to 31p per minute from mobile telephones. Mobile operators must announce at the start of a call that charges apply, but are not required to announce the price of the call.
Since Orange UK introduced charges for dialling freephone numbers in December 2005, all British mobile networks (excluding giffgaff who are a SIM-only mobile phone company) now charge for calls to freephone numbers, with certain limited exemptions (notably 0808 80x xxxx numbers, Childline and some other services), but this varies by network.
The UK mobile operators offer an alternative product to organisations who wish to provide toll-free services - 5-digit voice short codes which are sold through mobile aggregators.
Freephone numbers can be obtained for free, with calls charged from 1 penny per minute. Toll-free calls are also still available via the operator, although largely superseded by the 0800 system - a commonly seen phrase in advertisements in the 1980s was "Dial 100 and ask for freephone <business name>".
Universal International Freephone numbers
A Universal International Freephone Number (UIFN) is a worldwide toll-free "800 number" issued by the ITU. Like the 800 area code issued for the NANP in the U.S. and Canada, the call is free for the caller, and the receiver pays the charges (except on certain cell phones). UIFN uses ITU country code 800, so that no matter where the caller is, only the international access code (IAC), the UIFN country code (800) and the 8-digit UIFN need to be dialed. Currently, a limited selection of carriers in about 65 countries participate in the UIFN program; free access to the numbers (as international calls) from mobile and coin telephones is not universal. Registration of a +800 number incurs a 200 swiss franc ITU fee (as of 2013) in addition to any charges levied by the individual carrier. The number must be activated for inbound calls from at least two telephone country codes within 180 days.
The +800 UIFN service is one of three ITU-administered non-geographic codes with a similar numbering scheme. The +808 Universal International Shared Cost Number (UISCN), billed at the price of a local call, shares the same eight-digit format; the +979 Universal International Premium Rate Number (UIPRN), billed at a high premium cost, carries one extra digit to indicate price range.
Freephone around the world
Countries around the world use different area codes to denote toll-free services in their own networks. Some examples are:
- In Argentina, the prefix for toll-free numbers is "0800", followed by seven digits (the first three of them are fixed for each operator, so you may know which carrier is serving the party you are calling). These numbers are called "0-800" (cero ochocientos) or "líneas gratuitas" (free lines). There is also a local-rate service, similar to the explained above for UK and Australia, named "0-810" (cero ochocientos diez), where the calling party pays the fee for a local call and the called party pays for the long distance fees.
- In Armenia, the toll-free prefix is "800" followed by a five-digit number.
- In Austria, the prefix for toll-free numbers is also "0800", but only followed by six digits. They are commonly referred to as "Null-achthunderter Nummern" (Zero-eighthundred numbers).
- In Belgium, the prefix "0800" is used for toll-free numbers, followed by 5 digits. They are commonly referred to as "Groen nummer" (Dutch) and "Numéros verts" (French) or "Null-achthunderter Nummern" (Zero-eighthundred numbers)in the German speaking area.
- In Brazil, the prefix is "0800" - although phone numbers are 8 digits - it is followed by 7 digits - 6 digits are being phased out. Toll-free numbers in Brazil can be accessed from any telephone (by default) in Brazil, with many exceptions. They can be accessed from outside Brazil only with a calling service (such as voice-over-Internet services or MCI Worldcom calling service) that accesses numbers from within the called country. Many toll-free numbers are not available from cell phones (usually blocked by the cell phone provider rather than the provider of the toll-free number in an effort to prevent low-price competition from calling card providers). Some toll-free numbers are not available from phones listed by the owner of the number, including many payphones. For example, the MCI Worldphone calling service blocks usage from the pay phones in international airports (Rio and São Paulo) and many downtown pay phones due to "excessive fraud" from those phones (July 2003). In addition, Brazil has a system of regular and international pay phones (designated with the symbol "DDD"). Toll-free numbers to international calling plans can be reliably used from non-DDD pay phones, as of 2005.
- In Bulgaria, the toll-free prefix is "0800" followed by a five-digit number (up to now, only 1XXXX and 20ххх numbers have been allocated). These numbers are called "Зелен номер" (Green Number) by BTC and "Зелена линия" (Green Line) by M-tel.
- In Canada, toll-free numbers are drawn from the US SMS/800 database. A seven-digit number 310-xxxx (not a true toll-free, but may be called from anywhere in its home area code at local rates) is available in Bell Canada territory. From a landline, these are free.
- In Chile, the toll-free prefix is "800" followed by a six-digit number. These numbers are called "número 800" (800 number). These numbers can not be accessed from abroad.
- In China, see section above.
- In Colombia, toll-free numbers start with 018000
- In Croatia, the prefix for toll-free numbers is "0800"
- In Czech Republic, the toll-free prefix is "800".
- In Denmark telephone-numbers have eight digits. The toll-free numbers all begin with "80" followed by six further digits.
- In Dominican Republic, it's 1-200-xxxx (in addition to the area code).
- In Egypt, it starts with (800) followed by the number.
- In Ecuador, it starts with 1800 followed by 6-digit number. Some numbers have either regional or nationwide access. Calls from cellphones are only allowed by the operator Alegro which charges a few cents for these calls. PORTA and movistar does not allow the service.
- In France the "0800" or "0805" prefix is used for toll-free numbers. They are also known as numéros verts (green numbers).
- In Finland, the toll-free prefix is "0800".
- In Germany, the toll-free prefix is "0800" followed by a seven-digit number. The "0801" prefix is already reserved for future use. The prefix was formerly "0130". Deutsche Telekom calls these numbers "freecall 0800", most Germans refer to it simply as "Null-achthunderter Nummern" (Zero-eighthundred numbers).
- In Greece, the toll-free prefix is "800" followed by a seven-digit number or "807" followed by a four-digit number, used for phonecard services only.
- In Hong Kong, toll-free numbers have "800" prefix
- In Hungary, toll-free numbers have "80" prefix.
- In Iceland, the toll-free prefix is "800" followed by a four-digit number.
- In India, the toll-free prefix is "1800" followed by an seven-digit number. Free if calling from a mobile phone. Calling from land-line and VoIP will be considered a local call, with varying charges depending on the land-line and VoIP network providers.
- In Indonesia, the toll-free prefix is "0800" followed by a seven-digit number.
- In Ireland, 1800-xxxxxx numbers are freephone, with the 1800 71xxxx reserved for services that expect unusually high volumes of calls e.g. radio station phone-in lines.
- In Israel, toll-free numbers are prefixed with "1800" followed by 6 digits, "180" followed by 7 digits or "177-022" followed by 4 digits. Numbers prefixed with "1700" followed by 6 digits were local rate number.
- In Italy, toll-free numbers are dialed with the "800" or "803" prefix and are commonly referred to as "Numero Verde" (green number) or "Linea Verde" (green line). The "Numeri Verdi" used to begin with "1678" and later with "167".
- In Japan, the prefixes "0120" and "0800" are officially assigned for toll-free numbers and are often referred to as "free dial" (フリーダイヤル) or "free call" (フリーコール). Several telephone carriers also provide toll-free services under their own company prefixes such as "0077" (these prefixes are also used for other tolled services, though).
- In South Korea, toll-free numbers are prefixed with "080" (not to be confused with "060" or "070", which are used for pay-per-call/pay-per-minute information services or digital home phone services). It is to be noted that not all numbers with the "080" prefix are toll-free when called from a mobile phone.
- In Latvia the prefix 8000-xx-xx is used for toll-free services. They are toll-free only when dialed from landlines, and charged the same as a land line when dialed from cell phones.
- In Malaysia the prefix is 1800-xxxxxx. Free if calling from a land-line and VoIP only. Calling from mobile phone will be considered a local call, with varying charges depending on the mobile network providers.
- In Mexico the prefix is 01-800.
- In Nepal the prefix is 1660-01-XXXXX.
- In New Zealand, both "0800" or "0508" prefixes are referred to variously and interchangeably as "free phone" or "toll-free". Originally these "Oh-eight-hundred" numbers were provided by Telecom NZ and "0508" by rival company Clear (now Vodafone New Zealand), although now both numbers can be provided by either company. Some older toll bar services designed to restrict toll calls (including long distance or calls to mobile phones) will also block calls to these free phone numbers, although this has become less common since the mid-1990s. A limited number of companies utilizing toll-free numbers will not accept calls from mobile phones. Some other free phone services exist, such as "*555" ("star five five five"), which can be dialled from cellular phones to report traffic conditions and incidents of dangerous driving.
- In the Netherlands, the prefix "0800" is used for toll-free numbers. Calling 0800 numbers from fixed- and mobile phones is free by law. UIFN's "00800" are generally free from fixed lines and charged for the air-time from mobile phones. Access of UIFN is not enforced by law, causing certain phone providers to not honor the standard.
- In Norway most telephone-numbers have eight digits (some exceptions). The toll-free numbers all begin with "800" followed by five further digits.
- In Pakistan,toll-free numbers have the following format "0800-xxxxx".
- In Paraguay, the prefix "0800" is used for toll-free numbers, followed by 6 digits.
- In the Philippines, the prefix for toll-free numbers is "1800" followed by either one, two, or four digits (examples include 8, 10, and 1888) followed by either a four- or seven-digit phone number. However, there are restrictions. Toll-free numbers are only limited to the telephone network where the toll-free number is currently being handled. So subscribers of a different telephone network company will not be able to call the toll-free number handled by a different telephone network. International toll-free numbers can only be accessed if the calling party is a subscriber of PLDT.
- In Poland, toll-free numbers have the following format "800 xxx xxx". There are also Split-Charge numbers "801 uxx xxx" (caller's cost depends on the digit u) and Universal Numbers "804 uxx xxx", where the caller is automatically connected to the nearest office (are toll-free if u=3).
- In Portugal, the prefix is "800" so the 9-digit number is "800 xxx xxx". It is referred as "Chamada Gratuita" (Free Call) or as "Número Verde" (Green Number).
- In Qatar, toll-free numbers have the following format "800 xxxx".
- In Romania, toll-free numbers have the following format "0800 xxx xxx". The service is referred to as "Număr Verde".
- In Russia, the prefix is "8" "800", followed by 7 digits (8-800-XXX-XX-XX).
- In Serbia, the prefix "0-800" followed by a 6 or 7 digit number is used
- In Singapore, the prefix "1800" followed by a 7 digit number is used. Calling from a mobile phone network will be considered as a local call and charges varies among service providers.
- In Slovakia, the toll-free prefix is "0800", followed by six digits. The local rate prefix is "0850".
- In Slovenia, the prefix "080" is used for toll-free numbers, followed by four more digits.
- In South Africa, the prefix "0800", followed by 6 digits is used. It is referred to as a "toll-free" or "0800" number (Afrikaans: tol-vrye).
- In Spain, the "900XXXXXX" or "800XXXXXX" numbers are always toll-free (800 numbers are not usually used), "909XXXXXX" is used for dial-up Internet service and toll-free dialup Internet service (under subscription). Also "1002", "1004", "14XX", "15XX" and "16XX" are free and are used for the telecommunication providers call centers.
- In Sweden, the prefix is "020" or "0200" for toll-free numbers. (Additionally, 0800 is reserved for future use.) These numbers are unreachable from other countries.
- In Switzerland, the toll-free prefix is 0800; previously it was 155. These numbers are called « grüne Nummer / numéro vert / numero verde » (green number).
- In Taiwan, the toll-free prefix is 0800 or 0809.
- In Thailand, Call Free, Free Call, Toll-Free, or Free Phone,the prefix used is "1800"xxxxxx. Calls are free for all fixed line calls. Mobile carriers AIS and CAT (60+%of Thailand's subscribers) offer 1-800 service for cell phones. At present DTAC and True mobile providers do not, however it is expected they will offer the 1-800 service for subscribers by late 2009.
- In Turkey, the prefix for toll-free numbers is "0800".
- In the UK, Freephone numbers are usually only free when calling from a landline. All 0500 numbers have 9 digits, 0808 numbers have 10 digits and 0800 numbers have 7, 9 or 10 digits after the "0" trunk prefix.
- In Ukraine, toll-free numbers have "0" "800" and 6 digits after, i.e. 0 800 123456. Before October 2009 "8" "800" prefix was used.
- In Vietnam, the prefix "1800" followed by a series of numbers, usually from 4 to 9 digits. All "1800" numbers are free of charge, but some of them cannot be dialed from all telephones.
- Collect call
- SMS/800 and RespOrg
- 900 number
- Zenith number
- Wide Area Telephone Service
- Action point name
- Mobile dial code
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