Definitions

toll agent

Toll-free telephone number

A toll-free, Freecall, Freephone, or 800 number is a special telephone number, in that the called party is charged the cost of the calls by the telephone carrier, instead of the calling party. The cost of the call to the called party is usually based on factors such as the amount of usage the number experiences, the cost of the trunk lines to the facility, and possibly a monthly flat rate service charge. The called party may use a Freephone number because:

  • they charge the calling party in another way, such as for technical support calls.
  • they make a sale following the call to the toll-free number.
  • previous sales were enhanced with the inclusion of toll-free support.
  • it improves customer satisfaction by providing free after-sales support in certain products/services.

Early history

Toll-free calling originated on May 2, 1967 by AT&T as an alternative to collect calling and to reduce the need for operators. AT&T referred to the service as IN-WATS, or Inward Wide-Area Telephone Service (see WATS lines). The first company to use toll-free lines hosted numbers for major companies. Americana Hotels, Budget Rent a Car, Hyatt Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Roadway Inns, Sheridan 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 NE) 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 transisition 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 A&TT 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.

Inventor of modern 800 toll-free system

Roy P. Weber (1945-2005) from Bridgewater, New Jersey was the inventor of the second-generation 800 toll-free number system in 1978. Weber's U.S. Patent No. 4,191,860 was filed July 13, 1978 and issued March 4, 1980 and assigned to AT&T. AT&T started to use this new technology from the Weber patent in 1981. Weber's invention was called 'Data Base Communication Call Processing Method' ... more commonly called today a 'Toll-Free Call' or '800 Call'.

Growth of 800 toll-free numbers as a business tool

From 1967 to the AT&T breakup in 1984, AT&T had an absolute monopoly on assigning 800 numbers to subscribing customers. Billing during that period 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. Usage would average 13-15 cents per minute depending on the traffic being billed. From 1984 to 1993 Toll-Free customers were locked into a system that wed them to the telephone carrier like AT&T or MCI that assigned them their 800 number. To increase competition, the FCC, in 1991, ordered the implementation of 800-number portability by May 1, 1993. 800 Number Portability means that toll-free numbers are not 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. They could not change those carriers without changing their 800 numbers. From 1993 to 1994, Toll-Free 800 Service became a viable business tool with the use on 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. Toll Free has become so popular that 800 is no longer the only toll free area code. Area codes 866, 877, 888 were all added to meet the increased demands of the end users.

Toll-free vanity number for branding & direct response

A toll-free vanity number or mnemonics is a 1-800 telephone number that is easy to remember because it spells something and means something like 1-800-FLOWERS or 1-800-BUSINESS. A great vanity number, being a phoneword, is easier to remember than a numeric phone number such as 1-866-348-7934. 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.) since they are proven to increase response rates by 30-60%. Great vanity numbers like 1-800-FLOWERS and 1-800-Plumber are rare and valuable for the company using them in branding and advertising. In 2006 it was reported that AT&T paid over $1.32 million to acquire the Vanity Number 1-800-YELLOWPAGES in combination with the sale of the Domain Name 1800YELLOWPAGES.COM. 1-800-COMPANY transferred for $10 million in 2008. Top tier companies like Fidelity Investments use a similar Telephone Vanity Number (1-800-FIDELITY) and Internet Domain Name (FIDELITY.COM) to match their Business Name (FIDELITY).

North America - U.S.

Toll-free numbers in the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) are sometimes called "One-800 numbers" after the original area code which was used to dial them. They include the area codes 800 since 1967, 888 (since 1996), 877 (since 1998), and 866 (since 2000). Area codes reserved for future expansion include: 855 , 844, 833, 822, 880, 881, 882, 883, 884, 885, 886, 887 and 889.

Some regular area codes may be deceptively similar to toll-free prefixes, such as 801 (Salt Lake City, Utah), 860 (eastern and northwestern Connecticut), 843 (Coastal South Carolina), 814 (western and central Pennsylvania), 856 (southern New Jersey), and 818 (Los Angeles, California). This similarity has also been exploited by fraudsters in international locations that can be direct dialed with what appear at first glance to be domestic area codes such as 809 (Dominican Republic). 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.

The toll-free numbers can only be called from certain phone numbers, depending upon the preferences of the customer (and sometimes the provider) who has the phone numbers. The default is that these numbers are available from any phone in Canada or the USA. However, many US toll-free numbers cannot be accessed from Canada, and many Canadian toll-free numbers cannot be accessed from the USA. Some are not accessible from pay phones (which the provider passes as an ANI code). 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 Vonage internet telephone. 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.

When a NANP telephone number is written or printed as an international number, the number should be prefixed by a "+1" and a space, e.g.: +1 555-555-5555. The groups of digits within the NANP number should be visually separated by dashes, spaces or periods per ITU-T Rec. E.123 to make them easier to recognize and remember. However, when writing toll-free numbers that are not accessible from other countries, in order to make it clear that the initial 1 is not a country code, the plus-sign (+) and space should not be used, e.g. 1-800-xxx-yyyy. Restrictions (such as the number is not available from pay phones, cell phones, Canada, or other countries) should also be stated with any listing, but often are not. Although phone companies do not charge the caller for any toll-free number, charges may be billed by the recipients of these calls by some other method.

From many countries (e.g. the UK), US toll-free numbers can be dialed, but the caller first gets a recorded announcement that the call is not free, and perversely, 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 NANP countries 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 NANP country where it was blocked, 1-880-xxx-yyyy could be dialed. Areas codes 880, 881 and 882 have since been recovered.

A limited number of US toll-free numbers may be accessed internationally free of charge to the caller by dialing through the AT&T USADirect service. This is one way in which US companies may provide toll-free customer service to their international clients.

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, both interexchange carriers (IXCs) such as Sprint/Nextel, AT&T, and Verizon, and Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) such as Verizon and AT&T offer toll-free services.

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 (1985) and internet phone services such as Vonage (2002) 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 dial 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.

Toll Free Numbers are specific to each country. For example a Sweden Toll Free Number starts 0207 and an Ireland Toll Free Number would start 1800. For a list of the prefix's for each country you can view these at http://www.internationaltollfree.co.uk.

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. Usually the RESPORG is the IXC that is going to deliver the majority of the toll-free services.

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 25th).
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

USA and Canada RespOrg tools

  • Ameritech RespOrg Infoline Ameritech has an information line 800-337-4194 that will provide the RespOrg for any toll free number.
  • AT&T USA Direct Access USA toll free numbers from outside the USA.
  • Tollfree Advisory Commettee www.smsgov.com - Toll free service management system news for RespORGS and FCC
  • SMS/800 Contact. 888-SMS-3300 - www.sms800.com - The public site for becoming a RespORG
  • 800-998-4463 - www.worldwidetelegraph.com - Non-carrier affiliated RespOrg

Australia

  • Toll free numbers are referred to as 13, 1300 and 1800 (pronounced one-three, one-three-hundred and one-eight-hundred).
  • For all types, the recipient business pay for incoming toll charges.
  • 13 numbers have a total of six digits, 1300 and 1800 each have a total of ten digits.
  • Callers to 13 and 1300 (1-300) number are charged a "connection fee" by their telephone provider.
  • Callers to an 1800 (1-800) number are not charged a connection fee.
  • Mobile callers are charged to phone a 1300 number or 1800 number, usually at their normal per minute rate.
  • The 13 and 1300 network typically allows a certain number of free minutes to the recipient business for calls originating in the same local call zone as the destination.
  • 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.

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 to be dialed. For example, from the United Kingdom, a caller can dial the UIFN number 00-800-8353-4726 for the International Telegram service Currently, about 60 countries participate in the UIFN program.

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 Australia, see section above.
  • In Argentina, the prefix for toll-free numbers is "0800", followed by seven digits. These numbers are called "0-800" (cero ochocientos) or "líneas gratuitas" (free lines).
  • 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.
  • 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 Vonage internet phone or MCI Worldcom calling service) that access 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 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, the prefix is "800" for toll-free numbers and often referred to as "免付費电话".
  • 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 the European Union, there is a freephone number, working only inside the Union, called "Europa Direct", that provides information about Europe. The number is "00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11" (+800 can be used from cellular phones). This is an ITU UIFN, i.e. +800 6789 1011.
  • In France the "0800" 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 Servicerufnummer (service number).
  • 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, toll-free numbers used to begin with "1600" now the same numbers should be called using "1800".
  • In Indonesia, the toll-free prefix is "0 800" followed by a seven-digit number.
  • In Ireland, 1800-xxxxxx numbers are freephone, with some sub-sections reserved, such as 666xxx being reserved for police services, and 111xxx being reserved for lines used to report violations of laws or regulations, including insurance fraud and breaching of the workplace smoking ban.
  • In Israel, toll-free numbers are prefixed with "1800" followed by 6 digits.
  • 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 prefix "0120," "0800," "0077" are used 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).
  • In Malaysia the prefix is 1800-xxxxxx. Free if calling from land-line only. Calling from mobile phone network will considered as local call, charges varies from mobile network providers.
  • In Mexico the prefix is 01-800.
  • 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 TelstraClear), 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 a mobile phone is generally airtime-free.
  • 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 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.
  • In Poland, toll-free numbers have the following format "0800 xxx xxx".
  • 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 Romania, the prefix is 08008 is used for toll-free numbers. The service is referred to as "Telverde".
  • In Russia, the prefix is "8" "800", so call is 8-800-XXX-XXXX (from 2008-2010 "0-800-XXX-XXXX").
  • In Serbia, the prefix "800" followed by a 6 or 7 digit number is used
  • In Singapore, the prefix "1800" followed by a 7 digit number is used.
  • In Slovakia, the toll-free prefix is "0800", followed by six digits.
  • In Slovenia, the prefix "080" is used for toll-free numbers, followed by four more digits.
  • In South Africa, the prefix "0800", followed by 7 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.)
  • 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, CAT and True offer Call Free service for cell phones. At present DTAC does not, however it is expected to offer the toll free service for subscribers by mid 2008.
  • In Ukraine, toll-free numbers have "8" "800" prefix.
  • In the UK, numbers starting "0500", "0800" or "0808" are free, with "0800" the most commonly encountered. Additionally, numbers in the range 0808 80xxxxx are reserved for not-for-profit helplines. Since Orange UK introduced charges for dialing freephone numbers in December 2005, all British mobile networks now charge for calls to freephone numbers, with certain limited exemptions (notably Childline). Freephone numbers are used by many SME's and can be supplied from various telecom companies from £15 per month or for free with calls charged from 2 pence 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 was "Dial 100 and ask for freephone ".
  • In the USA and Canada, see section above.
  • 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.

See also

References

External links

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