Friday, 18 September 2009

It is not +44 (0)207 123 4567, it is +44 20 7123 4567

Just a pet hate but I have to say it some time, so why not now...

I see people with +44 (0)... on business cards, even for telcos that should know better.

The + you see on international phone number is specified by a standard. An international standard called E.123 and it defines the formatting for national and international phone numbers and email addresses and web sites. Such as you would use on a business card. It is not a big standard, so why use one bit and ignore another?

If you think +44(0) makes sense or looks cool READ THE STANDARD!

7.1 International prefix symbol

The international prefix symbol should be + (plus) and should precede the country code in the international number. It serves to remind the subscriber to dial the international prefix which differs from country to country and also serves to identify the number following as the international telephone number.

Simple. So people follow standards and show numbers starting +. So far so good. But...

7.2 Use of parentheses
The symbol ( ) (parentheses) should be used to indicate that the digits within the ( ) are not always dialled. The ( ) should enclose the trunk prefix and trunk code in a national number, and the trunk code when the trunk prefix is not in universal use within a country.
This is done to remind the user not to dial the enclosed digits for calls within the same numbering area.
The ( ) should not be used in an international number.

So, there you have it. You do not put (0) in an international number or any parenthesis.
Indeed, that definition is pretty clear that (0) means that you do not dial 0 when in the same numbering area (UK) and do dial it when not (outside UK) which is exactly the opposite of what you need to do!

Why the hell do people do this. Its a meme. One business card had this and instead of doing it right people just copied that and assumed it was the right thing to do. It is not.

Consider the options:-
  • UK caller that does not understand + notation: will find +44(0)... even more confusing. However, can look in phone book, check with operator, etc if it is properly formatted without (0) and find out.
  • UK caller that does understand + notation: (0) does not help them and may annoy or confused them even as non standard.
  • Non UK caller that does not understand + notation: Not helped by (0), and without it they can ask operator, etc, and find out as it is a standard. No idea if to dial 0 or not.
  • Non UK caller that does understand + notation: Does not understand (0) as it is non standard and so does not know if they should dial the 0 or not. If they understand UK numbering or have something similar they may guess but (0) does not help that.
  • GSM user: can dial + notation as written if standard, and (0) does not help
In no circumstances is anyone helped by (0) in an international number and in many cases it causes annoyance or confusion. It makes you look stupid!!!

Oh, and of course, the area code for London is 020, written +44 20 .... and not 0207. 0207 IS NOT AN AREA CODE! You can tell this as you can call from one 020 number to another 020 number by dialling the 8 digit number after the 020. You cannot call from one 0207 number to another 0207 number by dialling the 7 digits after 0207!

Similary, and local to us, 01189 IS NOT AN AREA CODE

What gets me is that the non-standard use of +44(0) is spreading fast. It is like a rumour. You see it everywhere. Why on earth is the correct standard not so good at spreading?

Anyway, I hope you will all use this as a chance to be technically correct (the best kind of correct) and one-up anyone giving you such a business card... Have fun.

45 comments:

  1. Good grief - they do not teach this stuff do they - my son's girlfriend was nearby when I explained this rant to my son. She never understood that her area code is 0118 and did not even know she could dial local 7 digit numbers. Arrrg!

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  2. The BBC seem to be the worse culprits for quoting 0207 as an area code.

    I think your son's girlfriend's ignorance of local dialling stems from the 'mobile phone' generation whose main experience of dialling phone numbers is from mobile phones where the whole number is also dialled. Don't even try to explain the old local dialling shortcodes (e.g. 74 for St.Helens numbers dialled from 051 exchanges)

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  3. At least it's pretty obvious that Microsoft are responsible for this next one ... why do they keep on believing that the UK timezone is GMT. It's not! The next time I get a meeting request for 1000 GMT and we're on summer time I will arrive at 1000 GMT, which will be an hour later than they think.

    It gets worse when you're dealing with countries that don't do summer time, or change on different dates. (Or even have it during the other half of the year!)

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  4. "UK caller that does not understand + notation..."

    is going to be looking for the + sign on their telephone for a long long time. :)

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  5. My mobile has a + sign on it clearly marked on the keyboard. All GSM phones can dial + and all of then allow dialing of full international numbers even in same country.

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  6. KPN mobile in Holland don't allow international dialing for local calling unless you have international roaming turned on. You get the equiv. of 'you dialed the wrong number muppet'.

    .. I appreciate UK mobile carriers may be different..

    also.. my joke failed.. :(

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  7. Unless it has changed, the GSM spec requires that you can dial full international format even in country. I am sure we could find a reference. Perhaps they need educating!

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  8. That's brilliant. Seriously. I remember coming to the UK and trying to dial a number minus the country code. Drove me nuts until someone explained to me you had to stick a zero in front. A big thank you to all companies who are kind enough to consider foreigners by putting a zero in parenthesis.

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  9. Uh, OK....

    /me just noticed ISPA business cards have (+44) 0...

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  10. There's now millions of US telephone numbers written as +1 (0) xxx xxx xxxx if you search in Google for [tel "+1 (0)" usa] with the quotes and spaces typed exactly as shown.

    That's completely crazy, because the US does not use an initial zero trunk code at all!

    http://www.google.com/search?num=100&q=tel+%22%2B1+%280%29%22+usa

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  11. But but but... That is crazier than the UK even.
    Any idea why or how that has happened?

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  12. It has happened because very many people in Europe, and especially the UK, automatically add an unwanted (0) directly after the +XX country code, without thinking.

    They now do it for all international numbers, from any country, without any thought as to why they do it, and without checking whether the country in question uses a trunk code.

    The millions of malformed US telephone numbers shown in the example Google search are mostly to be found on non-US websites.

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  13. Ah, I see. Even sillier. It is not a matter of checking if 0 is used though - it is always wrong even for +44. But so silly...

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  14. ... and then I see Italian numbers written as +39 6 455 4555 or as +39 (0)6 455 4555 when in actual fact the zero MUST ALWAYS be dialled from abroad.

    The correct representation is +39 06 455 4555 and there's several other countries that have similar dialling rules.

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  15. "Why the hell do people do this?" Because, years ago, it's exactly what the BT phone book told them to do! There was even a bit of explanation given: as I recall it was a mixed national/international format so that people who understood it knew what to dial both from inside the country and from outside. (Basically, the parentheses were to enclose numbers that you didn't need from outside the country but did need from inside, so you got told both in one.) When their advice changed, I don't know -- I moved to the US so I don't have recent phone books to hand.

    So, sure, times have moved on. We now have an ITU standard saying differently and OFCOM now agree. It's really nothing more remarkable than one legacy format being superseded by another that gives international-only format, though; hardly worth a rant, unless it's about the ITU's public outreach efforts.

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  16. Nope, definitely not. The BT phone book got it right.

    If you have an example of an old phone book getting it wrong, do send me a scan/picture.

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  17. I understand where you're coming from RevK. The thing is I havent met anyone who did put a parenthesis between 0 or put 0 after 44. I have worked for a local bookstore and students put their number for registration. Now I am currently working from home selling import export goods online. My international users dont use this kind of method either, so i think its just a mistake maybe.

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  18. We see it all the time though, especially on business cards! The fact you are not seeing it dealing with international users just proves how silly it is.

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  19. From what I can tell, +44 (0) 121... is universal.

    If your outside of the UK, dial +44 121, if your within the UK, dial 0121.

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    1. "universal" does not mean "right". The *standard* for + specifically lists brackets as meaning not dialled when in the area, e.g. (01344) 400123 means don't dial 01344 when in that area. But use after +44 is the reverse, meaning do dial the 0 when in the area (UK) and don't when not, and also somehow know not to dial the +44 when in the UK. And somehow expect dialling from outside the UK to know when to dial 0, if an area code or prefix or what as non standard. It is WRONG! read the blog.

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  20. Here are some circumstances where the (0) clearly makes sense:
    1.When you are visiting Britain from another country, and don't know you need to dial (0). Your plane just landed, all you have is a business card. You have no idea how to call an operator, and hate to be one of those tourists that bothers people to ask something that everyone local already knows.

    2. When you are calling Britain from another country, and you know you have to dial a country code, but do not know what to exclude from the local number to be "technically correct", and thus complete the call successfully.

    The () notation is used correctly, in terms of indicating that you don't dial it when you are in Britain. The fact that what's inside the parenthesis isn't an area code doesn't make any difference at all in terms of completing the call, and SOME notation needs to be given to prevent confusion. Within three tries, anyone knowing the rules or not, should be able to connect a call.

    The other options are:

    +44 079 3541 2560 - wrong (you have to exclude the 0)
    +44 79 3541 2560 - Technically right, but only for outside the UK, and gives no indication that anything should change for dialing inside the country.
    079 3541 2560 - Technically right, but only for inside the country, and gives no indication of area code, and worse, if looking up the country code for the UK, people will likely not think to take out the 0, and wonder what kind of dark magic they need just to be able to connect a call.

    The commonly (and nearly universally accepted) way is thus:
    +44 (0)79 3541 2560 - Accounts for both local and international calls. All the information is there, and even if the notation confuses, you can still figure it out without having to ask anyone (esp. if you don't speak much of the local language).

    Coming from the United States, and living in Britain for 5 years now, and having used this convention in both places, I can appreciate exactly why the (0) is added. People should not have to call an operator to ask what to dial locally. It makes perfect sense when you are trying to make one number both national and international variances (for which there is no standard) at the same time.

    Articles like this are quick to point out why things are "wrong" according to the books, then offer no solution whatsoever that is both technically right and useful to both international and national people. Being "technically right" does no good when there is no other solution. I'll take the /almost/ technically right (and much better) solution any day of the week. Local people know to dial (0), and not the +44, ALL that stuff is for people who are either out of the country, or visiting from outside the country. If anything, they should change the by-the-book codified standard to include the (0) format. But then again, they don't need to because clearly everybody gets it, and uses it already. Well, except the author of this article, who would rather confuse internationals and be "technically right". Good luck with that. ;)

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    1. 1) Nope, Hoes does (0) help you - hoes does () mean anything other than "optional". You don't know if you dial it or not. There are now "(" and ")" on your phone, and if you dial as written with the 0, i.e. +440 something on your mobile it will most likely not work. If quoted as +44 something with no 0, and you dial that it will. If it is quoted as 0 something, it will.

      2) Does not help, as you do not dial the 0. After all, above, you assumed (0) meant dial the "0", now you are assuming it means not dialling the "0" - which is it? Again, if you dial as +44 (no 0) on a mobile it will work. If you check your local international dialling and replace + with it, e.g. 0044 and number without the extra 0, it works. In both cases quoting +44 with no 0 at all is best

      The options are the ITU standard ones - quote "International" as +44 and no 0, as dialled on mobiles, and as dialled replacing + with international code from abroad. Or, as a national number, quoted for dialling in the same country. Ideally, quote both, as per ITU standards.

      The commonly used "AND TOTALLY WRONG" way, is, indeed, +44(0) which is not helpful other that to people who have already worked out what it means, and so do not need the help of the "(0)" anyway!

      Unless there is already a universal understanding of the meaning of "(" and ")" then that is not a helpful way to do it. Indeed, in the UK, it is still common and standard to quote area codes in brackets, e.g., (01344), and (020), as they are option when dialled in the area.

      "optional when dialled in the area" is the wrong way around for +44 (0) as when in the area (UK) you *do* dial the 0, and when not in the UK you do not. So the convention of (0) is *OPPOSITE* to the existing, and understanding convention used for optional area codes.

      Indeed, if you see +358(9)123456 does that mean "9" in the national prefix in that country and so not dialled when used from abroad? It used to for Finland. Or does it lean (9) is the area code for Helsinki dialled locally as 09 but as just 9 when used from abroad.

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    2. Perhaps to make it clear, tell me, what does use of "(" and ")" mean in a "telephone number", in one simple and easy to understand way?

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    3. There is a clear need for a single phone number with notation to denote local vs. international variance. I would be happy with this notation for example: [+44] or [0] 79 2941 0339, of course that means the same thing as +44(0) 79 2941 0339. It seems like relatively decent short-hand, in my opinion. If I saw +358(9)123456, I'd assume it was the same as +44(0) notation. If I'm wrong about that, I'd try again and include the 9 this time. The important thing is that all the numbers are there, and the one that may not work internationally is in parenthesis. If all the information is there, then you don't have to ask anyone, you just make an assumption, dial the numbers, and if it doesn't work, try the opposite. At most you have to dial three times (exclude one, exclude the other, include both). That's still superior than having to bother a stranger with a mundane question based on an antiquated convention that people clearly don't follow in the first place (and still needs to be explained, apparently). It's certainly superior to requiring every business to include two phone numbers which contain most of the same numbers in sequence. I have never seen that on a business card, but if I did, I'd think it was terribly patronising. +44(0) notation is not that hard to understand, or even to figure out, which is why everyone uses it, including international people like myself. So unless you are keen on explaining why you don't use +44(0) notation like everyone else does, you will probably "look stupid!!!" (your words, not mine) and even after you've wasted the poor person's time with your ranting about something that makes no real difference whatsoever, do you really think you will have earned the respect of that person, or are they just going to think you're nuts? That sounds like a lose-lose situation to me. To each their own, though.

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    4. And yet I allow and approve your post. +44(0) only is "not that hard" for many that understand it - it is not from some deeper ingrained understanding of (0) or () even, and indeed the opposite of most usage of (). It is contrary to any third party advice of checking with operator, or any such, yet it persists. It is a shame, a meaningless meme learned by those that know it and helpless to those that do not. Oh well.

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  21. So, all ranting aside, is there a standard for a combination number that includes both national and international variants?

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    1. The solution is, as per international standards (ITU) to quote both national and international, one above the other, aligning the area code and local parts, and to state "International" by the correct international format. There *IS* a standard for this.

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    2. But there is no solution that only involves one number, which is why people use the new +44(0) convention. Obviously people think this is a better solution than the old "standard" which requires two numbers. It's another language convention (the English language is full of them). It has become the norm, and has thus become the actual standard rather than the old codified standard. Hate it all you like, but I think you're going to be hating it forever. :) Almost no one pays any attention to the area code when dialing international numbers anyway. Just because there's a codified standard, doesn't mean it's a good standard.

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    3. These days, with so many calls from mobiles, specifying the +44 with no 0, or (0), or indeed any other + number, is ideal as GSM specs are that such should alway work, even if local. Sorted.

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    4. Most people would rather not use their mobile at international rates if they can at all help it, so that point is moot for people visiting inside the UK from elsewhere. It would be awesome if all carriers were international at the same rate, and phone software auto-compensated for the local (and international) dialling conventions. You'd still need the +44, but the 0 could then be left out.

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    5. The cost of calling is never related to the means of dialling the target - yet another meme. Another stupidity,

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    6. Except when your location changes outside your call plan area... which is the point. Clearly you don't travel much. When I land in Hong Kong for example, there are about 3 different carrier messages that automatically go to my mobile offering call service, and stating the rate... and, well, if 50p+ / minute (it changes slightly ever year when I go back) is what local people pay for a local call, then we have it really really good over here in Britain! As someone who runs an ISP, I figured you'd know that... maybe you are talking about VOIP? Considering the cost of data, that might be even more expensive... we get offered £1.50/megabyte. :P Internet cafes are a must when visiting HK. lol

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    7. No, the means of dialling does not change the destination dialled and hence charge. I travel plenty, but the GSM spec is clear on this. How you dial does not change where you dial.

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    8. No, but the COST does change. That is not a meme, or a "stupidity" as you put it. In fact, you can get in a car and drive outside your coverage area, and incur roaming charges. I've done that driving around the States. You don't find out until the next billing cycle how bad the damage is. I call 3 mobile before I get on the plain to get their current rates for calls in HK, and it's nowhere near what I pay for local calls. People can call ME cheaply, from HK if that's what you mean, but not vice-versa, and certainly not from my mobile to HK local numbers.

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    9. In fact, it's so expensive that in 2011, companes were forced to reduce overseas roaming charges (for data and calls) http://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/jul/06/mobile-phone-overseas-roaming-charges

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    10. I am not saying roaming does not cost, but that is a different diacussion. Dialling the +44 or the 0 in UK gets the same place at the same cost. The GSM apex specifically says you can do so, and calling UK from UK is not an international call. If you are using national dialing as a way to avoid accidentally calling when accidentally roamed that is daft as there are roaming controls and settings anyway and you could get a number in the other country anyway and some networks will translate to home country anyway as will some phones.

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    11. That article is nothing to do with how you dial!

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  22. Further comment was "
    Well, to me it means "if you are local, omit this part". That much seems true. To be honest though, I'd be just as happy if they used square brackets to denote that, if a distinction really needs to be made between parentheses denoting area code, which apparently needs to be included anyway. The important thing is that all the information is there, and it doesn't require two different numbers (most of which are redundant) just to prevent a little confusion for people who can't figure out a simple convention. It is more of a hassle, in my opinion, to have to ask someone for missing information.
    "

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    1. OK, the "if you are local, omit that part" is in fact the standard use of "(" and ")" for numbers, e.g. "(020)" from within London you omit the 020. But "(0)" after "+44" is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE meaning if local you dial the "0" and if not then you do not! You surely see the problem?

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    2. Er, sorry, I meant "include", not "omit". Yes, I understand your point. However, when using a single number, there needs to be SOMETHING to denote what should be added, just as there is something to denote exclusion. I would be happy to use square braces, or some such, but am equally happy with the +44(0) notation. Dialing rules change so much world wide, I'm surprised that any international body would try to regulate it. In the States for example, about 15 years ago you didn't have to dial an area code to get a local number, but now you do, so the parenthesis are actually useless altogether, though still often included in phone numbers... I would still rather have one number and all numbers included with some separation. As long as I can figure it out from what's written on the card, I don't really care if I guess the convention right the first time or not.

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    3. At any rate, I appreciate your taking time to explain your position, and the official standard. I found this article after looking for the commonly accepted way to write a UK number on a business card. I'll probably still go with +44[0] notation which is a compromise I'm willing to make based on the information in this article. Your article did make me stop to think about it, and the square brackets, though they don't seem like much of a change, are thus quite hard won, and not added lightly. Thanks again for sharing your point of view. If there were a better standard way to include both in one number, I'd use it instead. They need to make a new standard for this rather quickly, or people will just go with +44(0) until they do.

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    4. OK, but "if local, include the () part" breaks every use of "(020)", "(01344)", etc. The point is that there us a standard, so stick to it, why not?

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    5. I would like to use +44[0] to get around that convention. Why not? Because it's inefficient to print two numbers to denote variance of the same number, of which most of the digits are the same. It compounds too. If you have a phone and fax number, the standard requires 4 numbers. If you have mobile, office, and home numbers, that's 6 phone numbers. If you have the misfortune to own a fax machine as well as all that, you may as well just hand the poor person a phone book along with your business card. ;) Basically, we need a better way to denote the variance that doesn't conflict with the current notation.

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    6. The best way to do that is join ITU or get a job with an ITU member telco and propose it. That way everyone can see this new standard, reference it and understand it. As for quoting two numbers just quote the correct + format one number, after all, that already is a standard, already works from mobiles (at same cost) and if you are going to try and get everyone to understand a new convention

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    7. Just to be clear - there is a standard, and it means writing the number differently for national and international use.

      Obviously, one very simple solution, is educate the people in your country to understand the international format. Given that half the calls are made on mobiles which can just dial that format as is, that should not be such a big job. Then you can just write numbers in that one, and standard, format, already understood for international callers.

      But no, you want to do more, rather than educate one country, you want to make a new convention, and educate the whole world to your new convention, and no doubt do so without actually making it a "standard" that anyone can look up.

      I refer you to http://xkcd.com/927/

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