Mandatory 10-digit dialing starts Saturday in Triangle
Mar 30, 2012 (The News & Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
With the 919 area code region set to switch to 10-digit dialing on Saturday, the transition is expected to go without a hitch for most businesses and households.
But experience in other 10-digit calling areas suggests that despite all the notices and alerts, some customers will not have a working phone system.
The switchover is most likely to vex small businesses with archaic phone systems.
The worst case scenario for them: no calls out.
That's because many systems that date to the 1970s and 1980s are not programmed to recognize 10-digit numbers for local calls, or else they rely on auto-dial features that have to be manually reset within the software.
Phone service providers say the malfunctions will not be widespread. But when they happen, they will exasperate people who are following the rules and trying to dial 10 digits.
"They're going to be hearing a lot of fast-busy signals," said Steve Durney, solution director for Avaya, a phone system provider with 200 employees in Research Triangle Park. "You'll have some cases where you won't be able to make calls at all."
Like other specialty data service providers and IT managers, Avaya has been reprogramming and updating customers phone services since 10-digit dialing was announced last fall.
In some cases, the change requires manually inputting 919 in front of numbers dialed by computer or forwarded to pagers and secondary numbers. The changes are usually made remotely over a computer screen but sometimes require a technician to come out to the site.
In other cases, it requires overlaying a software application over the old system to allow the network to recognize an outgoing local call with 10 digits instead of seven.
Durney said those most likely to be caught off guard will be businesses with 15 to 100 employees that don't have a regular phone administrator and use systems that require dialing 9 to get a call out. They will have to call their equipment vendor or a data technician, for assistance.
Atcom Business Technology Solutions in Durham has been reprogramming customers' phone systems for months. The company has had to make adjustments for about 2,500 customers, said company CEO David Finch.
"We've been working on this since last fall, and we're just about finished," Finch said. "The only other thing like this was Y2K."
Most of the fixes take a half-hour, he said. But one customer, a bill collection company, required three hours of troubleshooting for Atcom to instruct the company how to re-program tens of thousands of phone numbers it had bought from other vendors.
"A lot of people will not know," Finch said. "There will be people who come that day and won't be able to make local phone calls."
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