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Businesses lay groundwork for 10-digit dialing in Manitoba

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On Nov. 3, Manitoba officially reaches a critical mass that many other regions in North America have already reached -- we will have used all 7.5 million available numbers in the 204 area code.

It means is that starting in November, newly issued phone numbers -- residential, business or cell -- may start with a new 431 area code.

But even before that -- starting July 29 -- 10-digit dialing will be required for all local calls in Manitoba.

For most of us, it will simply require a bit of a behavioural change -- adding 204 or later, 431, to every call we make -- but for some businesses it has been akin to a mini-Y2K drop-dead reboot of their systems.

But by all accounts, everything is under control.

"The good thing about it is we've had plenty of lead time," said Jess Guberman, vice-president of Winnipeg telecom firm Telexperts. "We have known about it for more than a year, so any new system we have put in over the last year-and-a-half, we have programmed for 10-digit dialing right off the hop."

Guberman and others say it is something businesses need to deal with.

And if they haven't yet, it's probably panic time -- multi-phone business systems need to be reprogrammed for 10-digit dialing, otherwise their staff will inadvertently try to call extension 204 all day long.

But it's no laughing matter.

Businesses need to have their phone systems working properly.

Guberman said some large corporate and institutional clients have contracted Telexperts to test and prove that their phones will work with 10-digit dialing and to guarantee that in writing.

While a company such as Telexperts has seen some increased revenue due to 10-digit dialing, on the other side of the coin, a company such as AAA Alarms has undergone significant expense to make sure its network is ready for the extra three digits.

The systems that the business and residential security company has installed throughout the province work through automatic phone calls to its software system.

For AAA to be able to do the service it is paid to provide, those automatic calls that are made when the security protocols have been tripped have to reliably get through. As of July 29, they all have to be 10-digit calls.

Randy Williams, AAA's vice-president and general manager, said in theory they had to adjust every single panel.

Williams was in Alberta in 2008 when the 587 area code was overlaid across the provincewide 403 region, and he knew what was at stake.

So four years ago, AAA started programing all new installations for 10-digit dialing. About two-thirds of the rest of the incumbent systems could be reprogrammed via remote downloads.

But AAA service people had to make 12,000 individual house calls to reprogram panels so the automatic calls would be made with 10 digits.

"We take this very seriously," Williams said. "It is a life-safety application. If our signal does not go through, bad things can happen."

Williams said in all but a few cases, AAA assumed all of the costs of the upgrades.

While 10-digit dialing and a second area code may seem like a colossal annoyance for Manitobans, it is something that has been happening across the country and around the world for a long time.

Glenn Pilley, spokesman for the Canadian Numbering Administrator, said in the past few years, 10 new area codes have been overlaid on top of existing area code regions in Canada and five more are in the works, including Manitoba's new 431 code.

Even though Manitobans will all have to use 10-digit dialing for all local calls, he figures it might be a whole year after the Nov. 3 initiation of the new area code before 431 numbers start getting doled out. That's because phone companies still have inventories of 204 numbers in various central office codes -- the three-digit prefix numbers specific to neighbourhoods.

The new area code is all about growth. Toronto will soon have six area codes. Saskatchewan isn't going to need a new area code until next spring.

Area code dates to remember

July 29: All local calls made within Manitoba will require 10 digits to be dialed -- the area code followed by the seven-digit phone number. Local calls dialed with only seven digits will generally be intercepted by a network announcement before being connected. This recorded announcement may disrupt data transmission and therefore it's important to make the necessary changes in advance.

Oct. 20: Ten-digit dialing will become mandatory: businesses and consumers will have to dial the area code followed by the seven-digit number for all local calls. If the 10-digit number is not dialed, the caller will hear a message stating 10-digit dialing is required and the call will not be completed.

Nov. 3: A new area code, 431, will be introduced and will be used in the same region as area code 204. Customers with the area code 204 will keep their numbers.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2012 B3

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash


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