Numbers Change for 900,000

Nearly a million Moscow mobile users will get a new phone number next month as nationwide subscriber growth pushes existing digital capacity to the limit, MTS said Thursday.

Mobile TeleSystems, the country's leading operator, said that between June 6 and June 20 it would automatically change some 900,000 numbers that begin with the 902 prefix to 916.

The majority of MTS's 3.75 million subscribers in Moscow currently have 11-digit federal numbers that begin with the long-distance access number eight, followed by one of three three-digit prefixes -- 902, 910 and 916. But after next month MTS will use only 910 and 916 in Moscow, leaving 902 for smaller regional operators.

The core, seven-digit number will remain the same.

MTS has been working on the changeover since July 2001, when the Communications Ministry ordered it to discontinue the 902 code and assigned it several new ones. This was done because the 902 code was not only being used by MTS throughout the country, but also by smaller regional operators.

In addition to 916, the ministry assigned MTS 910 for Moscow and central Russia, 911 for St. Petersburg and 912, 917 and 918 for the northwest, Volga and Caucasus super regions, respectively. The company has already made the switch in these regions.

"The transfer in Moscow is going to be the largest of them all and it has taken us almost two years to prepare for it," said Alexander Manin, marketing director at MTS. "We are sure that it will be painless for our subscribers."

MTS said its subscribers will be sent a text message once his or her number has been changed and that until Aug. 26 it will be possible to dial the old way.

After Aug. 26 it will no longer be possible to reach 902 numbers in Moscow, but those who dial a 902 number will hear a message indicating the new number. Subscribers who use the "favorite number" service for discounted calls to selected MTS numbers with the 902 code will have those numbers switched to 916 automatically.

"The only inconvenience our subscribers will face is changing codes for numbers in the contact lists on their phones," Manin said.

MTS rival Vimpelcom went through a similar procedure two years ago, changing hundreds of thousands of 901 numbers to 903.