The Communications Ministry has drafted a plan to introduce seven-digit numbers for all Israeli cellphone users.

The extra digit will increase the inventory of available telephone numbers from 8 million to 60 million, the ministry explains.

Today ii cellphone numbers consist of a three-digit "area code" and six more digits.

The ministry's deputy director general, Haim Giron, yesterday said the communications sector norm is to use no more than half the existing numbers on any network. With 6 million cellular subscribers, Israel is now using 75% of its cellular network.

With the transition to seven digits, each cellular company will receive a single "area code", while the first digit of each subscriber's phone number will be the last digit of their current area code.

Cellcom's area code will be 052, Partner Communications (Nasdaq, TASE:PTNR, LSE:PCCD) 054, while Pele-Phone Communications will get 056, which currently serves a large portion of its subscribers.

The transition to the new numbers will be carried out in three stages. At first, callers may use either the new or old number. During the second period, the old number will generate a recording noting the new number. In the third stage, old phone numbers will be discontinued.

The plan will cost tens of millions of shekels to implement, but is necessary due to the projected shortage of available numbers and the need to allocate new numbers to new telecommunications companies.

The change is the first stage in the cellular carrier's new number plan. In the second stage, all cellular numbers will carry a single area code.