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How Phone Numbers Work

By March 20, 2019December 13th, 2021No Comments

Phone numbers are so ubiquitous today that you may not even give them a second thought. After all, nearly everyone around the world has one; knowing the right phone number is essential in making sure your phone call or text message reaches the right person. But have you thought about what a phone number means? What does a mobile number mean?

Each “chunk” of a phone number has its own meaning. When put together as a phone number, the entire sequence acts like a map, telling your carrier where to direct your call. In this post, we’ll provide you with a phone number breakdown, including what the first three digits of a phone number means and what the numbers after the area code are called. Are there cell phone prefixes by carrier? We’ll discuss these questions and more.

Let’s take a look at how phone numbers work, both locally and internationally.

The Parts of a Phone Number

Landline phone numbers in the United States are made up of 10 digits, plus a country code. Therefore, a standard number has this format: +1-xxx-xxx-xxxx.

To help you understand how phones call each other, here’s a breakdown of each part of a phone number:

  • Country code: The country code is the first thing you dial to place a call. Countries around the world have different country codes based on where they’re located. For example, the United States and Canada have the country code +1, while South and Central America have country codes starting with +5. China’s country code is +86, while Germany’s is +49.
  • Area code: The area code immediately follows the country code and is made up of the first three digits of a phone number. The area code represents a more specific geographic location. In lesser-populated states, the area code can cover an entire state. Other states can have multiple area codes. California has the largest number of area codes (36), followed by Texas (27). An area code can also cover several towns or a fraction of a city, depending on the city’s size and its population.
  • Prefix: The prefix is made up of the second grouping of three digits in the phone number. This number narrows down your call even further, directing it to phones within a certain portion of the area code.
  • Line number: The last four digits make up the line number. You can think of this as your phone’s unique identification number. It’s this final code that sends a call to your specific handset. Incidentally, this means no two phone lines can have the exact same phone number.

What Happens When You Dial a Phone Number?

When you dial a phone number, the phone company connects your call by using the four parts of the number. As mentioned previously, your phone number is much like an address.

First, phone numbers narrow down your call to the country indicated by the country code. Then, they narrow further to the geographic region indicated by the area code and the more specific location indicated by the prefix. Finally, once all this narrowing is done, they send the call directly to your phone using your line number. All of this occurs within a fraction of an instant.

If you’re missing any part of the phone number when you dial, the sequence can’t be completed. In this case, your call may not connect. However, have you ever left out the area code or the country code of an area and were successful in reaching the intended person? This can happen depending upon where you are and who you’re trying to call.

When calling someone with a phone number of the same area code as you, you usually don’t need to dial the country code for the call to work. Similarly, if you’re calling someone with the same prefix as you, you usually don’t need to dial the area code or the country code.

What Do Mobile Numbers Mean?

Cell phone numbers work just like landline phone numbers. Unlike landlines, however, cell phone numbers are assigned based on where the phone was purchased, not necessarily where the phone is now. Today, it’s quite common for individuals to keep the same phone number for years, even though they’ve moved around quite a bit to different states. This allows for phone number continuity, which can be important when everyone these days is inundated with multiple accounts, numbers and passwords. Keeping the same number across state lines is most likely to be done by individuals, not businesses. Businesses, particularly small businesses, rely on number recognition, which adds validity to the business’ operations.

It’s important to understand this difference, since it means that you can’t assume a person’s location based on their phone number’s area code. In fact, 10% of people now have a cell number that is associated with a different state. This number climbs higher in metropolitan areas.

The Whiz Cells Blog

Did you enjoy this article about phone number meanings and learning how mobile phone numbers work? If so, be sure to check out our other blog posts at The Whiz Cells. From How to Prevent Spam Calls and How to Fix an Unresponsive Touchscreen to How to Use Your Phone as a Webcam, we have some great phone tips and tricks that you can apply in your everyday life.

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