Telco regulator confirms Hong Kong mobile numbers will soon start with ‘unlucky’ digit 4

But subscribers could get lines starting with ‘lucky’ digit 8, which will also be among 10.6 million new phone numbers issued to satisfy intense demand

Hong Kong had 18.2 million mobile subscribers in a population of about 7.3 million as of last September, or over two mobile devices per person.
South China Morning Post / Sam Tsang

Hong Kong’s mobile phone operators will soon begin issuing numbers starting with the “unlucky” digit 4 and the “lucky” digit 8, although they are so far keeping mum about how they will market these numbers to consumers who are both superstitious and hungry for mobile devices.

The telecommunications regulatory body confirmed on Monday that to meet demand for mobile numbers, it would make available to operators 10.6 million new numbers with prefixes 4, 7, and 8.

It expected operators to start assigning the numbers this month, with the bulk of new numbers starting with 4.

Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest mobile phone penetration rates, with 18.2 million mobile subscribers in a population of about 7.3 million as of last September, or over two mobile devices per person.

About 145,000 new mobile numbers are registered each month and demand is expected to intensify as 5G smartphones and “Internet of Things” devices enter the market in 2020.

The Office of the Communications Authority (Ofca) had in October 2015 proposed using new prefixes and recycling old numbers, after it estimated that the stock of available eight-digit numbers would run out as early as November this year.

Migration to nine-digit numbering was put on the back burner, as it would be disruptive and require upgrades to networks and databases, it said.

But operators during a public consultation exercise lamented that with the number four in Cantonese sounding similar to the word for death, it would be a tough sell and should be deferred for as long as possible.

Even some property developers take the belief seriously and exclude floors with the number 4 from their buildings. But the authority said given the “foreseeable mobile number shortage” it was not justifiable to “leave idle” the number 4.

While some people said the number 7 might also be unpopular as it was associated with a slang term for male genitalia, operators did not object because numbers starting with 7 were already used for pagers.

On Monday, PCCW, operator of mobile service providers CSL, 1010 and SUN mobile, refused to reveal how it would market the numbers, especially those starting with 8, which sounds like the word for “luck” in Cantonese.

“We prefer not to discuss at this stage our business strategy on this matter,” a spokeswoman said.

Inquires by the Post to mobile operators SmarTone and China Mobile went unanswered.

Ofca noted that it had already implemented measures to use the available stock of mobile phone numbers beginning with 9, 5 and 6 efficiently.

Last July, it required operators to show that 80 per cent of their mobile phone numbers were assigned before they could apply for new ones, up from a 70 per cent threshold the year before.

It added on Monday that it would also reallocate numbers meant for pagers to mobile phones in the coming years, bringing the available stock to 15.72 million numbers, which it expected to be sufficient to meet demand at least until 2029.

In its announcement, Ofca also warned members of the public to stay vigilant with regard to suspicious phone calls, given the rising incidence of phone scams in the city.

It said telcos were now required to insert a “+” character when displaying caller numbers for all incoming calls originating outside the city.

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