The History of The Phoneword.

In the late 90’s Australian businessmen went to the USA to review the phoneword industry sweeping over the country and creating a big buzz in the business arena. It had been established in the USA for many years and had been adding value to the marketing push of countless entities. The telecommunications head honchos like John Singleton were standing up and taking notice of the effects of having the ability to spell out a word with a phone number. It was a completely new and exciting idea for the Australia business and telecommunications market and one these leading entrepreneurs wanted a BIG part of!

So what is the concept basically?
If you consider the name of a business, let us say WESTPAC for example. We would simply match each letter of the name (WESTPAC) to the corresponding number on the telephone keypad and create the 1300 number from that. SO, the 1300 or 1800 number for WESTPAC would be 1300 937 872 (2). Now, we have left the last digit off for a reason and will explain this a later in the discussion. But firstly, if we look at the number versus the word, simply put, which one is easier to remember?

1300 WESTPAC Versus 1300 937 872

Testing of Phone Words v phone numbers in TV and radio advertisements have been carried out by the leading phoneword companies in Australia and show that;

• On average, the ads with phone words generated nearly three times more calls than the ads with phone numbers: a 290% increase in response rates.

These result mirrored similar case studies from the USA and UK.

And so the dream began so to speak, it was obvious that this was a niche market for those that could pull it off. And there was a lot of work to do. Would the consumer market in Australia accept the text to number (alphanumeric) dialing like the USA and UK? Would businesses in Australia trust and believe in the concept?

And one of the biggest hurdles – in Australia we were unable to “overdial” a telephone number. A 1300 number has it’s prefix (1300) and then 6 numbers following it, or for the 13 number of course, 4 numbers follow the prefix of 13. Words for businesses or generic words were always going to be longer the 4 or 6 letters and so Australia was going to need to introduce the ability to dial excess numbers when making a call to a 1300 or 1800 number – over dialing. The WESTPAC example above has 7 letters (numbers) and so a caller would enter an extra digit when dialing. As the networks stood (especially mobile phone networks), this would not work. Callers would simply get a fault signal or a beeping sound indicating a network error.

The powers that be (and they had some power), lobbied to ensure this issue was solved. All fixed line networks and mobile phone line carriers were made to develop their networks to ensure people dialing phonewords could over dial to accomodate long words. The limit was 10 letters in total after the prefix but there is a push to extend this even further.

And so to bring it to the current day, we have in excess of 10000 words purchase by the multitude of phoneword companies that have set up over the last 10 years. Of course the biggest of those is Telstra backed, 1300 AUSTRALIA. Numbers had to be purchased at the government auction system known as smartnumbers, administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and ranged from a minimum $500 to hundreds of 1000’s of dollars depending on the premium nature of the phoneword. In mid 2012 the reserve price was reduced to $250 but this still is a difficult entry point for small business owners considering the ability to get numbers for free (no purchase cost that is) if chosen from the Public Available List held by telcos in Australia.

Well that is part one. There is much more in this saga and indeed much more as the industry continues to grow and develop. Keep an eye out for more.