Old Hong Kong Telephone Numbering System

Submitted by RF on Thu, 05/16/2013 - 14:28

I was testing my memory on the captioned subject and double checked in wikipedia:


However, I was puzzled by the claim that for New Territories numbers, '12' was replaced by '0'.  Wasn't it the other way round?

Grateful if anyone can clear this up for me.  Many thanks!

i lived on argyle from 67-78  original number was K-635797 which changed to (3)017632 in early 70s so the nt dial code would have been changed to 12 at that time.  [calls to the nt- well probably never made any!] don't ask me why i still remember those numbers (and a few other cholce ones) when i now don't know my current cell number off by heart!  so in answer to your question

Hi there,

In the seventies Hong Kong was among one of those places that the links between the Telco Exchanges (that is, the backbone infrastructure) implemented fibre optics.  It was also the time when key punch tone dialing residential phone sets started to be generally available.  Before that all we've got were those close to non-destructable heavy set rotary analog types.

Back then if you relocate, the TelCo wouldn't usually let you retain your residential phone number unless you pay very much like an arm and a leg for the general public.

Best Regards,


Yes, prior to the direct dial '12' prefix, calls to the NT were made by dialling '0' for connection to a manual switchboard.

In the early 1960's the manual switchboard for NT calls was located within the Mongkok Telephone Exchange Building in Bute Street then in the Waterloo Road Exchange.

When moving house, the same telephone number could be retained provided it was within the same telephone exchange area - the problem being that the general public were not aware of the boundaries of the various telephone exchange areas of HK Island,  Kowloon and the NT.

Hi harryhktc,

I remember in the old days (1980s), the telephone exchange areas on HK Island are as follows:
Number starting with......

2:  Central (and Sheung Wan?)

4:  Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town

5:  Aberdeen

6:  North Point to Chai Wan

7:  Causeway Bay (and Wan Chai?)

Also, I was told that numbers ending in "99" were mostly reserved for employees of the HK Telephone Company, so customers with those numbers might get better service.  Is that true?

Yes, telephone exchange areas were usually identified by the first digit of the telephone number, and yes, employees did  get a degree of choice - unofficially. Not particularly ending in '99' but also choosing numbers with '88' '08' '808' etc - not only because they considered '8' a 'lucky' number but because then - pre-digital - the numbers 9,8,0 and 1 could be dialled free from the newly introduced payphones, so with some knowhow they could call home without charge. Local calls within Kowloon and HK were of course 'free' but increasingly shopkeepers were hiding their phones previously visible and offered as an on the counter free service for customers or even passers-by.

Telephone Company employees in common with most Chinese - would avoid certain combinations with the number '4' and before the days of ICAC quite high 'premiums' would be paid to to be allocated a number with 8's or combinations of 83, 82 etc .

Only a then naive and unsuspecting gweilo as myself would be allocated the number 242242  ....sad



Thanks Harry!  I did not know one would pay extra money to get a good telephone number (just like vehicle registration marks).  Another relative of mine has a phone number ending in "7777".  I wonder if he knew someone from the telephone company.

Do you mind sharing how some numbers can be dialed free from a rotary payphone? wink Thanks!

Numbers 8,9,0 and 1 were included in emergency or 'free' service numbers such as 999 or the then free directory enquiries, so bypassed the coin mechanism. Intervening numbers could be tapped out on the handset cradle. To prevent this, the cradles were later fitted with damping mechanisms but it could still be done with a degree of skill by controlling the rotary return travel of the digit '0'. A skill well-practiced in the late 1940's and 50's during student days in he UK.   The introduction of electronic telephone exchanges (replacing the electro-mechanical ones) and digital signalling and push-button dialling put an end to it - though it can theoretically still be done using a high frequency variable sound generator.  Hardly worthwhile nowadays.

Btw - the number 284284 ..... ?

Well, perhaps everyone would like  "easy money until the day they die ...."   wink



Hi tngan, I think each of the islands with a substantial population has a telephone exchange.  For example, all telephone numbers on Cheung Chau were 5-981-XXXX and those on Peng Chau were 5-983-XXXX.  I suppose the 981 and 983 are "sub-area codes".  Calling another number on the same island did not involve another exchange and therefore dialing 4 digits sufficed.  Perhaps harryhktc can confirm this?

Quite true, 'C'. Telephone service to some of the smaller 'fishermen' islands didn't even exist until the mid-70's when submarine cables were laid to their nearest main exchange landfall - either in the NT or HK Island. The demand for telephones on the smaller outlying islands was seriously underestimated, and the shortage of submarine cable pairs meant the re-introduction of 'shared service party lines' .

Then came VHF and mobile phones ....smiley




Thank you for confirming, Harry!  It is a pity that unlike Towngas, HK Electric and China Light and Power, there seems to be no full-length book on the HK Telephone Company.  I don't think the current PCCW management would engage itself in a non-profitable task of writing a history book. devil   Would you like to give us more glimpses of how the HKTC was? wink 

I was working for HKTC 1973-1983 as Engineer, Senior Engineer, Executive Engineer then Principal of HKTC Management Training College. I worked on Exchange Design, Long Term Planning and Network Performance.

Not all the connections to O/L Islands was by cable. I remember one was by M/W and when first installed used to go off air as the tide changed!

Hello Folks, Ken, Harry

Just joined Gwulo as I was researching some HKTC history. I'm still at PCCW & HKT after first joining HKTC in 1980, going away and coming back again 15 years ago.....and probably have guessed who you two are (Harry and Ken).

Just to let you know that in my research for the folks in Tap Mun Island I found that a copper Submarine Cable was laid in 1977 and Telephone service first provided to Tap Mun at that time.

Trusting you are all well?!


Actually, whilst PCCW or HKT may not have produced its own history (since the old 1970s history of C&W in Hong Kong "Glad Tidings from Hong Kong"), they did sponsor the production of a hsitory of telecommunictions in Hong Kong which published by the Communications Association of Hong Kong and was written by Gertrude Layton after interviewing many of the "old lags".

Its called Hong Kong's Telecommunications Story and published in 2008. As you can imagine, any history pre-competition in 1995 was mainly around HKTC and Cable & Wireless.

I've been going through the old ads for my family's company, C.E. Warren & Co. After its move to the China Building the firm's telephone number is given as Central 269 - presumably requested through the operator. That's from 1924 to 1930. I haven't found an ad with a phone number for 1931 but in 1932 the phone number is given as 20269. Does that mean you could dial straight through? Precisely which year did the change take place?

Thanks moddsey. I've been ploughing through the Warren ads in the SCMP, not at all chronologically listed by the Proquest "Search" facility. The last 3-digit one I have is on 21 February 1930, so perhaps the change to 5-digits was introduced on 1st May 1930 or thereabouts. Maybe there was a general announcement about it.

After midnight on 3 May 1930, the new automatic telephone system came into operation and old magneto telephones could no longer be used. Telephone users were required to use telephones with dials for making calls. With the change, new automatic telephone numbers were introduced. Hong Kong Telegraph 1-3 May 1930 refers.

1930 New Automatic Telephone System
1930 New Automatic Telephone System, by Moddsey

My father Jimmy was ex-GPO, and was seconded to the HK Telephone Company in late 1965.  He returned to the UK in 1984.  We always had easy to remember numbers.  First we had 221333, but then moved to Robinson Road.  My dad chose 456789 - and we had this amazing phone number for a total of three or four days.  Every kid in the colony was ringing us (calls were free remember), and my mother INISISTED the number be changed.  We soon settled with 458585.  This brought further confusion, as our good friends the Moseleys who lived three floors above us had 458855 - so we'd get calls for each other.


The only Harry I knew working for HKTC was Harry Lavery, an affable Scot who was actually a "teleboy" with my Grandfather in Glasgow in the early 50s.  Sadly, I heard he passed away at his home in Germany.

All the best

Tom Banks 

Never forget the home phone number of 822643 on a black heavy phone with a heavy handle with two bulky ends that you speak into the lower end and could hear voice comeing out from the top end...When you dial this number, no person speaking voice came out but an annoying tone-I guess it's call a "busy signals" came out from the receiver end to the point that you just need to drop it down and let it hang on by the cord until an adult came over to put the receiver back up on the top of the black phone "box". : )