When Did Area Codes Start.

When Did Area Codes Start?

Area codes are integral to the phone numbers system that help arrange and identify the geographical area. Generally, the first few digits in a phone code, the area-specific codes distinguish one geographic location from another. When a user dials a number, area codes help the system connect with our targeted connection point.

These area codes allow users and telecommunication systems to avoid confusion and ensure that calls reach the right destination. But did you ever think about how and when these area codes start? What was the logic behind these area codes and the changes these area codes have gone through over time?

If you are looking for the same information, this article is a good help. This blog will explore the origins of the area codes, who started them, and what is their functionality in the communication system.

Why Did We Need Area Codes?

Before area codes, it was impossible to make a long-distance call. The calling system was quite different from what it is today.

The process of long-distance calling before the pre-area code was as follows: 

    1. For a long-distance call, there were dedicated persons called operators. People were unable to make long-distance calls without the assistance of the operator. 
    2. Operators played the role of traffic controls and connection navigation. People would tell them their targeted call location, and they would adjust wires accordingly. 
    3. Making a long-distance call was a complex process. Because of the multi-steps involved in the long-distance calls, it was a slow and lengthy process. 
    4. Because the operator was involved, long-distance calls were often costlier than local calls. Not everyone can afford long-distance calls because of the complexity and cost. 
    5. There was also a grave risk of wrong-directed calls. Operators would hear the wrong dialling numbers and call the wrong destinations. It would cost money and time.

For all these reasons, the pre-area code era was very different from what we have today. The purpose of timely communication was a dream due to this messed-up system. With time, people got frustrated with this chaos and looked for better ways to make calls. The advancement in technology provided better options. One of the facilities technology produced was area codes.

Need for Area Codes

Need of area codes

With an increasing magnitude of calls every day, operators failed to facilitate large-scale calls. People realised the need for a better way to manage calls, prompting the emergence of area codes. Each area has a dedicated code to ensure confusion and wrong calls and to save time, energy and money.

All area codes represented specific geographical territories. In the implementation phase, some of the significant points in the journey of area codes include:

  • Initially, only big cities got dedicated codes. Each area had a specific code, and calls were made using these codes to land in the relevant areas. When people got familiar with area codes, it became easier to identify call locations.  
  • With advanced and improved technology, the popularity of phones grew immensely. Widespread phone use connected cities with nearby towns and far-off villages. 
  • Remembering area codes became easy because area codes had identical patterns of home addresses. With the help of area codes, making calls became more accurate and faster.

1. Birth of North American Number Plan (NANP)

AT&T and Bell Laboratories developed the first area code system in 1947, and got popular soon after its release. It was called the North American Numbering Plan (NANP), connecting the United States and Canada and solving the problem of high demand for numbers. So, the purpose was to manage the increasing need for phone numbers.

Before the implementation of NANP, every region had separate codes and numbering systems, which caused ambiguity and complexity and blocked the way for a standardised numbering system. The NANP solved the problem and introduced an innovative scheme of numbering.

2. Implementation and Growth

The arrival of NANP simplified the dialling system and made communication efficient and faster. NANP allocated specific three-digit codes to states and provinces with one area code, which contained 0 in the middle.

For example, 330 for code serves Ohio State, 305 for Florida. At that time, there were about 86 area codes with 0 in the middle of each specific area code. Likewise, states and provinces that had more than one area code got three-digit codes with 1 in the middle of each code.

For example, 916 and 213 were the area codes for different parts of California, and 212 and 518 were the dedicated area codes for various sections of Florida.

3. Rationale Behind Area Codes

NANP allotted the first and third digits of the area code as per the population density of the relevant geographic area. The most populated areas got the lowest numbers; for example, the area code of New York City was 212, while the peripheral areas got 914 as their area code.

The logic behind this “lowest number/most population” was unique and innovative. Phones in those days had rotary dials, and the lowest codes required minimum dial pulls. Naturally, the number of calls from areas with the most population would be higher than the lowest population areas.

To manage call loads, people in dense areas needed to be able to dial faster. As we know, fewer dial pulls cost minimum time and work for dialling a number. In this way, NANP enabled more people to make calls than previously did.

4. Expansion Phase

As the population increased outside big cities, the growing number of people required more phone numbers. As a result, existing area codes proved insufficient.

With more people and phone devices, the communication system demanded expansion to serve more people. It led telecom companies to take initiatives in this regard.

  • Split and New Codes

During expansion, telecom companies introduced split and new codes for demanding areas. Split coding allowed the division and production of more numbers for new geographic entities. Areas with high call volume qualified new numbers for the same areas to manage call loads. Between the transition, the old and new codes were eligible because they allowed people to adapt and adjust to changes.

  • Technology

Newly emerged technologies made expansion and scaling easier. Technology advancement lessened the burden of traditional numbering systems and allowed communication systems to reach beyond the boundaries of metropolitan areas to suburban towns and cities.

Toll-Free Area Codes

The toll-free numbers proved to be a revolutionary development for businesses and brands. These toll-free numbers included codes like 800, 888 and others. It enhanced the options for scaling, growth, marketing and customer service. Toll-free numbers transformed the business culture and opened new avenues. It provided industries with

  • Competitive advantage 
  • Customer accessibility 
  • Nationwide scaling opportunities 
  • More advertising and marketing space
  • Opportunities for up-selling

Modern Challenges for Area Codes

challenges of area codes

The widespread use of mobile phones, VoIP services and online applications has posed multiple challenges for traditional area codes. Earlier, area codes were limited only to specific regions and areas, but now mobile phones allow consumers to move anywhere with mobiles in their pockets.

It has ultimately affected the tracking of locations based on area codes, and, as a result, emergency and billing are affected. The growth in the use of mobile phones connected to the internet poses challenges for area codes, which no longer serve their original purpose of area identity.

i. Modern Relevance of Area Codes

Since we live in a global world connected through the internet, and technology has allowed people to connect worldwide, traditional area codes might feel less relevant. However, area codes have maintained their considerable relevance to this day. Still,

Area codes ensure that calls, messages and communication reach the targeted point without distraction. Calls landed at the correct geographic locations enhance the accuracy, call experience and reliability of communication systems. Furthermore, area codes help manage communication network resources and assist in emergencies by ascertaining call origin.

ii. Future of Area Codes

As technology evolves, potential changes might occur in traditional area codes. Once tied to a reserved location, area codes might lose their original purpose, but even then, they might contribute to communication systems. The new roles will help meet the increasing demands of phone numbers and ensure flawless communication across continents.

With the arrival of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), the nature of area codes might change area-specific nature to accommodate one code applicable everywhere. It will introduce virtual code numbers transcending physical restrictions, allowing the privilege of retaining one number worldwide.

Final Words - History of Area Codes

In the last century, long-distance communication was possible only with an assistant called a call operator. The growing number of calls made it difficult to manage the workload through call operators. Also, there were many issues while making long-distance calls.

Operators often misheard numbers, resulting in wrong calls costing time and money. As they say, “ Necessity is the mother of invention.” These issues inspired the rise of area codes. Area codes were specially dedicated numbers attached to specific regions.

After area codes proved successful in big cities, they gradually penetrated suburban areas and the countryside. Area codes were identical to home addresses and facilitated long-distance calls, avoiding confusion and distraction in call lines. Area codes provided much-needed stimulus to calling systems, ensuring precision, accuracy and enhanced connectivity. 

Although, with the rise of modern means of technology, traditional area codes are prone to potential changes. However, area codes might remain relevant in roles, enabling customers to attain single code numbers that function worldwide.


Zayne Z

Meet Zayne VoIP Blog's dedicated Content Researcher with 5+ Years Experience. Passionate about VoIP technology, he delivers accurate, engaging articles, keeping readers informed on industry trends with excellence.