What is a Phone Number?
A telephone number is a sequence of numerical digits assigned to a fixed-line telephone subscriber station connected to a telephone line or a wireless telephony device. Telephone numbers may also be connected to other data transmission devices via the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or other public or private networks.
A telephone number serves as an address for switching telephone calls using a system of destination code routing. It denotes the string of specific numbers that a phone user dials to connect to a landline or mobile phone.
What is the U.S. Phone Number Format?
A U.S. telephone number consists of ten numerical digits. The first three digits represent the area code and are unique to a geographical location, while the remaining seven digits are unique to each device or user. Of these seven digits, the first three digits represent the prefix code and the last four digits indicate the line number. So, for the U.S. phone number (212) 234-5678, 212 represents the area code, 234 is the prefix code, and 5678 is the line number.
When making a call to a U.S. number from another country, i.e., an international phone call, an extra digit is added before the ten digits. This is the country code, and in the case of the U.S., it is a 1. As such, an individual dialing a U.S. phone number from another country would dial +1 (212) 234-5678 to be connected.
All countries in the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) are assigned the same international dial code of +1. However, phone numbers do not overlap because the NANP gives different numbering plan area codes to the various service territories. This is to say that the area codes, i.e., the three digits after the country code, are always different. This ensures that for countries using the +1 country code, there are no telephone numbers overlap. Therefore, U.S. and Canada phone numbers do not overlap.
What Do the Area Codes in Phone Numbers Mean?
Area codes identify the numbering plan areas (NPAs) designated by the North American Numbering Plan (NANP). The NANP divides the different regional service territories into numbering plan areas and uses area codes to identify NPAs. An area code identifies the origin of a telephone call or where the telephone number was assigned to a user.
What Is a Prefix Code?
A telephone prefix code is the first set of digits after the country and area codes in a telephone number. In countries using the NANP, the prefix code is the first three digits of a seven-digit phone number. So, for the U.S. telephone number (212) 234-5678, 212 is the area code, 234 represents the prefix code, and 5678 is the line number.
The prefix code provides a more specific location of a telephone number, identifying a particular town or neighborhood. When dialing another number with the same prefix, it is generally unnecessary to include the area code.
How Do I Obtain a Phone Number?
To obtain a wireless phone number, purchase a telephone handset and a SIM card from your preferred network carrier. Insert the SIM card in the SIM slot of the handset and power the phone. If the SIM card is activated, you can make phone calls and browse the internet immediately. If the SIM card is not activated, contact your phone carrier for instructions on activating it.
To obtain a landline, contact your local telephone company and make the request. Most homes in the U.S. already have telephone hardlines installed. Telephone companies may charge installation fees, especially if additional wiring is required. When ordering the phone line, you provide information including:
- Full name
- Full address
- Name of the former occupant or previous phone number (if applicable)
- The type of calling plan you require
- The social security number of the person to be billed
- Credit information
- Choice of long-distance company
Subscribers unable to get credit may pay a refundable deposit to be connected. You may obtain a phone from the phone company or purchase one yourself. Telephone bills are sent monthly and late fees are charged if subscribers do not clear them by the due dates. Phone companies can disconnect their service if subscribers fail to pay their bills.
A virtual phone number is a regular phone number that facilitates telephony services from anywhere in the world. Virtual phone numbers do not connect to physical phone lines or SIM cards but instead use internet-based apps to make and receive calls. They enable long-distance telephone services without incurring long-distance charges.
To get a U.S. number from another country, subscribers will need to contact a virtual phone service provider. Several companies around the U.S. provide these services, such as Google Voice, OnSIP, 8x8, and MightyCall.
What is a Toll-Free Number?
A toll-free number is a telephone number that can be dialed from a landline with no charge to the caller. With toll-free numbers, the receivers pay for long-distance call charges, allowing callers to reach out-of-the-area numbers without incurring fees. A toll-free number begins with one of the following three-digit codes: 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, or 833.
What is a Vanity Number?
A vanity number is a toll-free number, whose corresponding letters on the alphanumeric keypad of the telephone spells a name, word, or acronym. Subscribers request such numbers because they are easily remembered and are typically for marketing purposes. Examples of vanity numbers are 1-800-FLOWERS, 1-888-NEW-CARS, and 1-800-TAXICAB.
Who Assigns Toll-Free Numbers?
Toll-free numbers are made available by the Federal Communications Commission on a first-come, first-served basis. Subscribers who wish to obtain toll-free numbers must contact Responsible Organizations to reserve the numbers on their behalf. Responsible Organizations or RespOrgs manage and administer the account records in the Toll-Free Service Management System Database. This database contains all the information regarding toll-free numbers and is administered by Somos, Inc., who certifies all RespOrgs.
The FCC sets the rules for the acquisition and usage of toll-free numbers. However, it is not directly involved with the assignment of toll-free numbers and has no access to the numbers database. According to FCC rules, toll-free numbers must be portable, i.e. subscribers can move their numbers to new RespOrgs when changing service providers. RespOrgs are not allowed to reserve toll-free numbers without having actual subscribers who have requested the reserved numbers. Subscribers are also not allowed to acquire more toll-free numbers than they intend to use or offer to sell toll-free numbers. These acts are known as warehousing, hoarding, and brokering. They are illegal and carry penalties from the FCC.