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toll free telephone  

Toll Free Telephone

A toll-free, Freecall, Freephone, or 0800 for the UK or 800 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

'Freephone' services appeared in the 1960s, with the Post Office introducing such a facility in 1960. A Toll-free service was also 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. 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, Sheraton 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 Centre location in strip malls so they could continue to answer their toll free calls and also rehire the already trained staffing and management.

As the Call Centres 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.

Inventor of modern 0800 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 1982. Weber's invention was called 'Data Base Communication Call Processing Method' ... more commonly called today a 'Toll-Free Call' or '800 Call', 0800 in the UK.

Growth of 0800 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 0800 number. To increase competition, the FCC, in 1991, ordered the implementation of 800-number portability by May 1, 1993. 0800 Number Portability means that toll-free numbers are not associated with a particular telephone carrier such as AT&T or MCI. 0800 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 0800 numbers. Starting in the early 90s, 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 0800 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%, for example, some solicitors might include the word law in their phone number such as 1-800-LAW-1333, to increase memorability. 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). In Australia, 1800 word numbers little known 5 years ago, have recently transferred for millions of dollars. In developing countries adopting the system, such as Thailand, the prominent international companies such as BMW, NEC, Mercedes, TNT, have acquired numbers however to date, the industry is yet to be realized.

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.

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

In addition, 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

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--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 area code. 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 Thailand Toll-free number would start with 1800-xxxxxx.

Countries around the world use different area codes to denote toll-free services in their own networks.

Visit and get a free quote for Call Centre Toll-free Telephone number, contact us today to start making smarter business decisions today to make your business grow bigger.

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