area codes

They keep needing more of them ,making each section of the city split into more different codes.
Are we running out of phone numbers?
Can we possibly have a differing area code for each street eventually?

Given that we have 7 digit phone numbers, the range of phone numbers that can be used within an area code is 000-0000, all the way up to 999-9999, from a mathematical perspective (not counting the fact that a phone number cannot begin with 0 or 555 or an area code). This means that there are a possible 10,000,000 phone numbers. If there are 10,000,000 different people on a street, each with a separate phone number, then different area codes would be necessary for each street. I personally have 2 phone numbers (mobile and home), so this type of thing would compound the problem.

I am using the U.S. for illustration. I am not sure of the telephone conventions in other countries.

Area codes have been an issue in the UK for the last ten years. In the early 1990s all area codes had an extra digit added to them; this year the area codes for several large cities (including London) have been changed again.

In the UK there is no simple standard format. For example, London has a three digit area code (020) and an eight digit number (e.g. 020 7123 4567). Other cities have a four - three - four number (e.g. Edinburgh - 0131 123 4567). Suburban and small town numbers can be five - six or five - seven (e.g. 01252 123456).

It’s all a bit of a shambles, really, but I doubt we’ll ever run out. Either area codes will be lengthened and more added or numbers themselves will be lengthened.

Here are some points to add to mattk’s accurate posting.

Our capital’s numbers start with 0207 for Inner London, and 0208 for Outer London. This can lead to snobbery - 'Oh my dear, you have an 0208 number! :o '.

It’s really irritating for businesses to have to keep reprinting their stationery, especially since a few years ago the telephone company stated that this would be last change for generations. :rolleyes:

Why can’t stationery remain stationary?!

Glee - good point about the business costs, especially since half the companies in London put (020) xxxx xxxx and the other half use (0207) xxx xxxx or (0208) xxx xxxx. You’d think they’d check to make sure they had it right first…

Part of the problem is that wireless and cellular communications providers are buying up enormous blocks of numbers within a given area code and prefix to use for phones, pagers, etc. Even if the numbers sit unused, that’s one less number available for residential or business landline use.

Personally, I thought the smart thing to do would have been (using NE Ohio as an example), to switch all wireless communications devices to the new 440 area code and leave the remaining 216 numbers for landline use. Instead, they split several neighborhoods, most notably Parma, straight down the middle.

(stupid joke) and nobody in Parma even noticed. heh hehe

pldennison is right. In the US, phone companies will assign a prefix to a certain neighborhood or area. For example, in my neighborhood, everyone’s 7-digit phone number starts with 456. The phone company has then allocated 10,000 numbers for my neighborhood, whether we need them all or not. This is how area codes get used so fast. Here in Houston, we are on our third area code and have finally abandoned geographic assignments in favor of maximizing available numbers.

This is a continuing issue in Chicago, where we’ve gone from one area code for the city and suburbs (312) to five over the last 10 years or so. The big problem was that the powers that be that issue the numbers to the local phone companies were issuing them in blocks of 100,000 numbers at a time. There was a big stink when it was learned that a local company may have a number of unused blocks (or a minimal number of numbers assigned) yet would apply for another block of 100,000. The phone companies were saying that the actual numbers in use was privileged business information. This was so they would appear to have a large number of subscibers (like AT&T) and not be a minor player (like Joes Telephone and Pizza). They are now issuing the numbers in blocks of 10,000 and requiring unused numbers to be returned, so that has slowed the “growth” of numbers in use somewhat. Also slowing the growth was the fact that it may take 6 weeks or more to get a phone line installed. :frowning:

“Our capital’s numbers start with 0207 for Inner London, and 0208 for Outer London. This can lead to snobbery - ‘Oh my dear, you have an 0208 number!’.”

We definitely get that here in Chicago! Chicago has been 312 from the beginning of area codes. The first division was 312 for the city and 708 for the suburbs, and that immediately led to many city people talking about anything bourgeois (in the cultural sense, not the Marxist sense) or suburban as “so 708”.

Now that the city itself has been divided into 312 for the center and 773 for the rest of the city, it tends to confound easy divisions like that. After all, there’s little difference between the tony neighborhoods just south of North Avenue (312) and the equally tony neighborhoods just north of North Avenue (773). :slight_smile:

The problem with the 10,000 block in Chicago is that it also applies to a company, not just to the baby phone companies. My understanding: if you are a business with 100 employees, and you want to buy a block of phone numbers (like, 555-1000 to 555-1200, to allow for some future growth) … well, you can’t. You have to take 555-1000 to 555-1999. Thus we wind up with huge blocks of assigned-but-unused numbers.

Why don’t they simply change the area codes to letters, rather than numbers, like airport codes? And if need be, go to 4 letters?

Does your telephone dial letters?

Sorry, I submitted prematurely. Most telephones are only equipped to dial using 12 tones (0-9,# and *). if we were to try to use letters, ther would be a need for 26 additional tones on a telephone, not to mention upgrading all of the telco equipment to recognize all of the new tones. I know the alphabet appears on a standard telephone, but A,B,&C are all on 2, so the same tone is emitted by pressing that button. The only thing that can be done is add another digit to the telephone numbers or area codes.

The reality is that sooner or later the USA will have to switch to 4-digit area codes or 8-digit phone numbers. In Switzerland, phone numbers used to be 5 or 6 digits until all numbers were changed to 7 digits (but area codes are still 2 digits.)

As other posters have mentioned, the system of allocating large blocks of phone numbers aggravates the problem. In California phone numbers were also assigned in blocks of 10,000 to cellular phone companies and others. There was talk of reducing the size of the blocks of phone numbers being assigned but I don’t know if the size reduction has been implemented yet.

The phone number problem is compounded by local telephone competition.

The North American phone system identifies what local phone company serves a given customer by looking at the first six digits of the phone number, in other words the area code and exchange code. EACH phone company that serves a given calling area, or “rate centre”, must have an exchange code in that rate centre, so that the system can identify it.

Each competitor therefore gets 10,000 individual phone numbers (“line numbers”) in each rate centre, even if it only has one customer there!

Now, multiply that by, say, forty rate centres in a large city, and by fifteen competing phone companies each seeking an exchange code in each rate centre, and you have 40 x 15 = 600 exchanges that have to be given out. At 10,000 numbers per exchange, this is 6 million potential phone numbers. One area code can hold 7.9 million phone numbers.

So the real problem is, we’re not running out of phone numbers, precisely; we’re running out of exchange codes. The companies may never expect to need all of these numbers they are given, but they can’t get them in smaller groups.

Regulatory officials are combating this by consolidating rate centres, and forcing the phone companies to take only the exchanges that they actually need. As well they’re changing the system to hand out numbers in blocks of 1000 (presumably by getting it to look at the first 7 digits of the phone number).

I believe Chicago required this of their phone companies, and staved off four more area codes for quite a few years.

BTW, the London UK “area code” is 020. The 7 or 8 goes on the front of the local number to make it 8 digits long; presumably there will be local numbers starting with other digits such as 5 or 6 later.

Why North America can’t go to eight digit local numbers anytime soon (from LincMad).

Also see LincMad’s piece on North American number expansion.

Another good area code site:


you’re being too logical. This is not how phone companies work.

London UK used to be 01 followed by the local number.

Then 01 became ‘full’, so the phone company said ‘we’ll split you into 071 and 081. Don’t worry, this will be the last change for ages!’

(I think 091 etc. was elsewhere in the country).

Then 071 and 081 became ‘full’, so the phone company said ‘we’ll split you into 0171 and 0181. Don’t worry, this will be the last change for ages!’

Then 0171 and 0181 became ‘full’, so the phone company said ‘we’ll split you into 0207 and 0208. Don’t worry, this will be the last change for ages!’

Then 0207 and 0208 became ‘full’, so the phone company said ‘we’ll split you into …’

Oh sorry, that hasn’t happened yet. :rolleyes:

P.S. I knew keeping my old address book would come in handy one day!

Well, BellSouth has been pretty good at announcing the changes and giving time to make the switch. I have been through this in every state that I lived in since college has been through this.

Tennessee now has 901(Memphis), 615(Nashville metro), 931(middle TN outside of Nashville), 423(Chattanooga), and 865(Upper east, including Knoxville).

Here in Atlanta, where I live now…10 digit dialing is required. It’s the first town I’ve lived in with that. 404-downtown atlanta, 770, 678 for the surrounding metro. 706, north Georgia, 912, south GA, and they just announced 2 new ones for south GA-and there may be more soon, especially here in Atlanta.

I used to pride myself on knowing area codes for lots and lots of cities (“303? Denver of course. 215? Philadelphia!!”). Easy to win bar bets and all that. Then they started adding more of the suckers. I was OK for a little while, because they still played fair – the area code couldn’t start with 0 or 1, the middle number had to be 0 or 1. Then all of a sudden, they broke that second rule and my brain couldn’t handle it. Those bastards at the NANP!! (they actually have some cool stuff at their web site: )

Somebody upthread asked about dialing letters . . . minor hijack here, mea culpa, etc.

The “Touch-Tone” (TM, AT&T [or maybe Lucent, or even Avaya at this point]) uses what is known as DTMF encoding. That would be “Dual Tone Multi Frequency” for those of you playing along at home. Each row (1 2 3) and each column (2 5 8 0) has a specific tone. When you press a key, you are actually generating two tones, which can be decoded by other parts of the telephone system to determine what key was pressed. Unbeknownst to most is the fact that there is indeed a fourth column. If your phone was so equipped, the additional column of keys would sit just to the right of your 369# and would be labelled ABCD. Here is a page with a tad more information:

The more curious reader is referred to google or its ilk.

Of course, not everyone has a TouchTone phone, so we can’t even take advantage of the * and # in phone numbers (which would give us 35,831,808 combinations in the pool before rules were applied), let alone the nigh-mythical ABCD (268,435,456!).