The ITU’s Universal International Freephone
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced a monumental leap in international toll-free services in 1997 when they unveiled the Universal International Freephone Numbering (UIFN). This new service promised to provide businesses a toll-free number that could be dialed from anywhere in the world; one, single, universal phone number.
UIFN versus International Toll-Free Services (ITFS)
This was a huge step up from the familiar international toll-free service (ITFS) and domestic toll-free service (DTF), which require a country-specific 800 number to be dialed from each desired country. With a UIFN, a caller could theoretically dial a business from anywhere in the world, toll-free.
To call a UIFN number, a caller first dials the international access code (IAC), followed by the 800- prefix, and eight digits. More than 20 years later, the reality of the UIFN is perhaps less than “universal” –
- UIFN numbers can only be accessed from countries included in the ITU UIFN program, which currently is about 70 countries, while ITFS is available in 140+ countries worldwide.
- Callers in many countries are not familiar with the number format, as local ITFS numbers which are more familiar take an alternate form. This makes communicating/advertising services complex.
- Some countries put restrictions on UIFN numbers that ITFS / DTF numbers don’t have. For example, in New Zealand, ITFS can be dialed from mobile networks, but UIFN can only be dialed from 2 of the available mobile networks.
United World Telecom, a valued Spearline customer, has put together a helpful article on how to determine whether UIFN or IFTN is best for your business, which you can read here.
The UIFN service has struggled to gain market acceptance. With ITFS remaining strong, and with new communications options such as click-to-call, it is unlikely that the UIFN will experience an upsurge in demand. The UIFN works in some application spaces, however, its challenges and restrictions have limited its widespread use.
At Spearline we help you to ensure connectivity and audio quality which supports a positive customer interaction. We test phone numbers, in-country. Contact us to learn more.