Sometime before 2040 we will run out of phone numbers. We’ll be out of area codes, out of prefixes, and out of pretty much everything.
We have made several improvements to managing supply over the years, 10 digit dialing, new types of area codes, and allocating numbers in blocks of thousands instead of ten thousands. But we’re still going to run out.
There are several proposals for adding a digit to our current 10-digit system. None of these proposals seem to be especially well thought out. One of them stuffs the digit “9” as the second digit of an area code, so that 415 would become 4915. The digit 9 was chosen because it is the lucky number in Thailand, I guess. (???) Other proposals would add a 0 to the end of all phone numbers.
So let me offer my proposal and illustrate how it would make for an easy transition.
I propose that we add a 0 to the front of every area code so that 415 would become 0415. Why the digit 0? Two reasons, it’s the lowest button on the phone and thus your finger naturally reaches it first and it doesn’t cover up any other digits. Second, we don’t use 0+ operator assisted dialing any more and so 0+ can be re-deployed. The transition would be simple:
- In three years from now 0+ dialing for operator assisted calls is banned and discontinued. Nobody will miss it.
- In five years from now 0415 becomes permissive dialing for the 415 area code. You can dial 415 or 0415 and either will work. We are now in the transition period. You can use old legacy systems and start using new 11-digit systems.
- In seven years from now you MUST dial 0415 and can no longer dial merely 415. This forces all systems to use the new dialing method and flushes out all incompatible legacy systems.
- In ten years from now we introduce area codes that start with digits other than 0 such as 2415 and 3415 and 5415.
I would also propose that the area code prefix digits 7 and 8 and 9 be reserved. They may come in handy in the future. I don’t know what for, but that’s the whole point of them. Perhaps they will support 12 or 15 digit dialing if we find we need many more numbers.
The area code prefix digit 1 is a super-special series because combined with country code “11” for the use it would be “111”. I’m sure we can think of something quite magical to do with that. So, let’s not assign it and remember it is super-special.
I also propose that we migrate international dialing to use the prefix 01 instead of 011. Global calling is so common that we should drop the unnecessary extra digit. This is done permissively quite easily as well.
I’ll put forth that my proposal solves the problem of how do we migrate to the new dialing system most easily. All of the other proposals I have heard are plagued with unsolved transition problems.
My plan actually works with phone systems installed in the 1970s…even after the permissive dialing period ends! How’s that for an easy solution folks?