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A History of the North American Numbering Plan


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You may have become so accustomed to dialing ten digits when making a phone call that you no longer think about it. However, once upon a time, area codes were not as mandatory or as numerous as they are now. Why? The simple reason was there were not nearly as many phone consumers as there are today.

In 1947, when the area code system, also known as the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) was created by Bell Laboratories and AT&T, there were only 86 area codes to accommodate the population in the United States and Canada. The more populated states and provinces were supplied with more than one area code, which featured a “1" as the middle digit. The 1 indicated that more than one code existed within this state/province, while a “0" as the middle digit meant that only a single area code was in use for the particular region.

Just as the middle digits of area codes had meaning, so did the first and last numbers. Cities that were highly populated such as New York City, had lower digits (I. E. 212) because people had rotary phones back then, and the lower the digits you had to dial, the fewer the pulls and the shorter the wait. Thus, this is how the NANP was developed.

Nowadays, there are hundreds of area codes and almost all states and provinces have more than one. In fact, currently there are 24 countries that are part of the North America Numbering Plan. The number of area codes will continue to grow to meet the demands of phone consumers and to accommodate the many established and new wireless phone providers.

In addition to knowing the history of area codes, you may not be aware that an area code can actually reveal your general location. How? Each code is assigned to a specific geographical region. Therefore, if you were to enter an area code and 7-digit telephone number into a reverse phone lookup search, you would be able to learn the name of the state, and sometimes the city, to which the phone number is assigned.

Susan is a part-time writer and long-time personal fitness trainer with a knack for tech gadgets.


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