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# Lots of Phone Numbers

An easy way to remember longer phone numbers
 (0) [vote for, against]

Perhaps you have heard that there is starting to be a shortage of telephone numbers in the United States? More and more people have separate phone numbers for home, for the road, for faxing, for computers, for the kids, etc. The decades-old system of having a 3-digit Area code followed by a 3-digit Local Exchange, followed by a 4-digit number just isn't going to be workable for very much longer. The ONLY solution is longer phone numbers. Just the other day I read about how people in New York City are very likely to soon have to ALWAYS dial full-length phone numbers, including the usual initial '1'. I suppose they are about to get some Area codes that begin with Zero...(and they don't want to reach the Operator, of course).

Well folks, if longer phone numbers are going to be inevitable, how can we make them as painless as possible? Here's how, and it's a sneaky trick, indeed!

Start by changing the 3-digit Area code system to a 5-digit Area Code system. Instantly we increase the total number of telephone numbers by 100 times. It WILL be necessary to dial that initial '1' prior to any 5+3+4-digit number. That's because numbers like 911 and 0 still need to work, so if all ordinary phone numbers begin with 1, well, remember that someday we might double the total by allowing the first digit to be 2 (and later, 3, and 4...)

But changing the first digit from 1 is for MUCH later. For resolving the immediate crisis, I'm simply suggesting that we dial 1 followed by five digits, followed by the ordinary phone numbers that we already have memorized.

NOW for the sneaky trick, the thing that makes your new Area Code -- AND the Area Codes of your friends! -- easy to remember. Synchronize the nation's Area Codes with its already-existing and well-known ZIP codes! You DO know your own Zip Code, don't you? AND you know most of your friend's Zip Codes, too, right? Well, then, do you think you will have much trouble remembering the new phone numbers that you will have to dial, once the switch is made? Just dial 1, the Zip Code, and then the regular "local" 7-digit number.

(Yes, I know some wag will mention that Zip codes are 9 digits these days, but most people don't know their 4-digit extensions, and for now, simply to get a hundred-fold increase in phone numbers ought to be sufficient.)

Any ideas on how soon this can be implemented?

 — Vernon, Feb 01 2003

IPV6 http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2460.txt

British Telecom did something very similar a few years ago. UK provincial numbers had a (mainly) 4-digit code starting with 0 (some smaller exchanges followed a more complex system) , and London numbers were in the form '01 xxx nnnn', where xxx was the district. Callers to London from outside London used all nine digits, callers from inside London used the last seven, even when calling from the same district.
Phase 1 of the change divided London into inner and outer, one changing to 071 (instead of 01), the other to 081; at the same time, provincial dialling codes gained a '1' after the 0, so my code changed from 0325 to 01325, followed by my 6-digit number.
Phase 2 added another digit to London numbers so they now start 0171 or 0181.
 — angel, Feb 01 2003

 And pilot, I've heard you mention recently as well.

I think this is an excellent idea.
 — waugsqueke, Feb 01 2003

 And a spell managing a bar :)

wish I understood the idea. nice to see you again, Vernon.
 — po, Feb 01 2003

 //wish I understood the idea//

V wants me to dial lots more numbers in order to get through to you.
 — neelandan, Feb 01 2003

I'm ex-directory.
 — po, Feb 01 2003

[Rods]: Of course; how did I manage to forget that?
 — angel, Feb 01 2003

Yeah, that eleven digit stuff is supposed to start here (NYC) today, but I just called home with seven, so we'll see..
 — snarfyguy, Feb 01 2003

 Hi folks!

 I knew when I wrote this idea that some people might have trouble relating to it, because it is specific to the United States, while posting it on the Internet means an international audience gets to see it. Ah, well.

po, in the US the Zip Code system is used for delivering actual physical packages, letters, junk mail, etc. With 5-digit Zip Codes, any one of up to 99,999 geographical regions of the US can be quickly referenced as the general delivery destination, (although not all of the hundred thousand codes have been assigned, and the exact destination requires a more complete address, such as 123 Main Street -- or the extra 4 digits of the longer 9-digit Zip Code.). The basic 5-digit enumeration system has been in place for something like 40 years, and everyone in the US is familiar with it. And that's exactly why Zip Codes ought to be perfectly workable as replacements for the existing 3-digit telephone Area Codes.
 — Vernon, Feb 18 2003

A similar situation exists here (and also, I imagine, anywhere that uses postal codes and area codes; there must be some correlation between the two). Our postcodes are not in such an amenable format as US ZIP codes though.
 — angel, Feb 19 2003

Great idea. Still will have problems remembering the last four just like i do now, and remembering whether a certain number is in my cell phone or my pda.... could combine them but that idea is definately baked
 — slyphter, May 14 2003

 There are three primary reasons for the phone number shortage and related hassles:

 -1- When area codes are split, there's been an effort to split them into as few pieces as possible, resulting in a recurring need to split them again. If 312 had been split into ten area codes 15 years ago when 708 was split off, people would not have had to endure numerous re-splits.

 -2- Had everybody been assigned a new area code, instead of having some customers keep the old one, it would have been possible to have existing numbers forwarded to the new area code for a much longer time, and for redirect messages to remain in effect for much longer still.

 -3- Historically, both billing and routing have been based upon the first six digits of phone numbers. If, e.g., a pager company wants people in Northbrook to be able to dial one of their pagers as a Zone A call, the pager company needed to have a switch whose 'assigned location' was within 8 miles of northbrook; this switch must then had to get the full 10,000 numbers. Were there larger granularity in local calling areas, it wouldn't be necessary for companies to have so many 'assigned locations' for their switches.

To some extent, changes in routing have mitigated this problem somewhat, but it is the desire to have billing assigned with such fine granularity that caused the main problem in Illinois.
 — supercat, May 14 2003

 This idea is probably better known as "synchronize area codes to ZIP codes".

 What an extremely interesting idea. Wouldn't it be nice to have to know only one arbitrary code number for every city?

 One of the prime complaints about area code splits or overlays is that everyone needs to spend a lot of money re-printing all their stationery and re-painting all their delivery trucks and whatnot. A nation-wide conversion would incur a steep cost up front. Though any sign or letterhead or whatever that also included the address would not need to be urgently updated, since it would include the ZIP code!

 For cities and areas that are currently under a single area code, it would be annoying to have to know in which ZIP code a given entity is located. Perhaps in areas where enough phone numbers were still available, only the first few digits of the ZIP code would be necessary, with the rest filled in with zeroes. So 94100 might be just as good for San Francisco as 94113, until more numbers got used up. Of course, when you publish a number, you'd want to publish the full 5-digit ZIP, for forward compatibility.

 Or maybe that would be too confusing; it probably wouldn't be applicable in too many places (I'm not even sure my example is accurate).

 Another cost would be reprogramming a considerable amount of telephone routing equipment, though that's probably small compared to the customer-side renumbering. Not to mention the confusion of the transition period.

I wonder if it would be possible to gradually introduce 12-digit dialing. (Though cities without overlay area codes still have the relative luxury of 7-digit dialing.)
 — beland, Nov 01 2003

ipv6 phone numbers should do the trick.
 — bristolz, Nov 01 2003

IPv6 dialed with the digits 0..9 would be 39 digits long!
On the plus side, it might improve peoples' ability to convert between base 10 and hex in their heads :)
 — benjamin, Nov 01 2003

 beland, thank you. While I can agree it could be annoying to dial extra digits just to reach someone in a not-humongous city, it still seems to me that you are going to know the ZIP codes of almost all the people you want to call in that city, even if they don't happen to be in your own ZIP code. If you call them often, then probably you have also sent them a letter or two, eh? This means the annoyance is more a matter of tedium in pushing a few extra buttons, rather than the problem of having to look up and/or remember those extra digits every month or two. Still, the main point here is that if we keep adding phones, then we are GOING to need longer phone numbers, and I know full well that a lot of telephone-system software is going to need some editing. But that editing is going to be needed no matter what way the telephone numbering system is extended, and so I'm offering a notion that just might be reasonably user-friendly.

 bristolz, using ipv6 addresses is interesting, but poses its own problems. As benjamin indicated, the limitation of the telephone keypad means you have to remember, and punch without error(!), 39-digit numbers. Of course, today a lot of phones are also PDAs, which have full-character keyboards, and so using them and an appropriate translator, from text to numeric ipv6, typing in someone's name could connect you. But this leaves out in the cold all those multi-millions of phones that only do ten digits and two other symbols. And, of course, the fact that they are not directly connected to the Internet is a problem, too.

However, on the plus side, there is the possibility that at the rate new stuff is coming out that is designed to be connected to the Internet, including Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP), JUST MAYBE there will turn out to be no need to extend the existing phone-numbering system in the U.S.!!! Instead, they simply say (after all available numbers are finally used up), "If you want another phone, get a VOIP connection. If you want another fax, get an Internet-ready model. And so on."
 — Vernon, Nov 02 2003

 The official North American area code expansion plan calls for four-digit area codes. A '9' will be insterted after the first digit of existing codes.

ZIP codes are confusing enough because so many are non-geographic. A contract postal service (e.g., at a university) may have its own. Also, a building like the Empire State Building has over a dozen ZIP codes. Also, ZIP codes have no correlation to telephone rate zones or central office service areas. Oh well. I don't think any dialing plan is going to make anyone happy.
 — athenian47, Dec 18 2003

athenian47, thanks; that's the first I've heard that there was any sort of official plan...
 — Vernon, Dec 18 2003

I wonder if we will ever have anything like a DNS-to-IP conversion for phone numbers, and if so, what we would be converting from.
 — beland, Jan 02 2004

Didn't know they had decide how to modify the NANP (No. American Number Plan) Thought there were still several proposals on the table. ( Check out www.nanpa.com). The zip code idea does seem to be easy -- but, when you move across a zip deliniation you'd need to swap numbers -- maybe even be forced to a new base number if some else was using it int that zip. (And occasionally the Postal Service splits codes too.) Think we'll just have to adapt to 11 digit dialing using part of the existing paradigm. Yuck. (BTW --- why do we still put city and state on US mail when the zip tells both?? and zip plus 4 puts it in my PO Box??)
 — Rufage, Jan 15 2004

 [Rufage] // why do we still put city and state on US mail when the zip tells both? //

That way there's some redundancy in case of an error or illegibility.
 — benjamin, Jan 15 2004

Found this through a link. +
 — sartep, Jun 23 2004

 [Rufage] // why do we still put city and state on US mail when the zip tells both? //

 [Rufage], I got something that'll really bake your noodle.

ZIP Codes now have a +4 extension that I'm sure you've seen. Those last four digits actually define which side of the block you're on, not just PO Box (PO Boxes in a city have their own ZIP). A +4 of 2533, for example, is across the street from 2534, down the street from 2531, et cetera. Technically, to send a letter to Bob at 4406 Max Lane, Washington, DC 20025-2564 (not a real address), you could just send it to: Bob, 4406, 20025-2564, and it'd get there. But the postman would hate you.
 — shapu, Aug 05 2004

Screw phone numbers... by the time we run out, hopefully everyone will be using VOIP anyways. I know I use mine more than the real phone. Unlimited numbers (once we switch to IPv6 that is)
 — eulachon, Aug 05 2004

Using IPV6 addresses as phone numbers would be a bit silly. I imagine you'd more want to use a URI for your recipient to look up a list of devices your recipient is currently carrying or near of. ("Ring," said the wall, extruding a monitor.)
 — jutta, Aug 05 2004

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