What’s in your phone number?

Recently I’ve been entering a lot of phone numbers in a database. This is dull. Phone numbers do, however, open up a load of (slightly) interesting geekery.

One of the problems I had was with the London dialling code. Numbers in London tend to start with 0207 or 0208. I decided that this seemed like a reasonable dialling code. Some people tended to list their phone number as (020) 8…… but I discounted that – after all it looks very European and not at all like other British numbers.

Unfortunately my slightly Euro-phobic decision turned out to be completely wrong. I was labouring under a common misapprehension. Luckily I’m not alone, and it isn’t really my fault. After all, even BT seem not to understand, listing 0207, 0208, and 0203 as separate codes.

From quite an amusing rant:

Worse still, on some telephone networks the call return (1471) service reads out numbers in these wrong forms. For any company to have let this bug slip through in the first place is bad enough, but I can’t for the life of me understand how any of them can have not fixed it by now. You’d think that basic knowledge of how phone numbers work is essential to the ability of a phone service to function. In any case, anybody who cannot understand such a simple aspect of a phone numbering system has absolutely no business to be working in a phone company. But perhaps worst of all is that some websites devoted to providing information on dialling codes, such as UK Phone Info, are giving false information in this department.

Luckily reading further down the page gives some clear instructions. UK area codes are either:

  • (02x) [London]
  • (011x)
  • (01×1)
  • (01xxx)
  • (01xxxx) [very rare]

If you want to know what all the area codes are, then you can, as always, consult Wikipedia. Their list is particularly useful in that it reveals the origins of many area codes as mnemonic versions of their place name. For example, Cambridge starts with the letters “CA”. If you wanted to text that on a mobile phone you’d use the number 2 key twice. So the Cambridge area code starts 0122x. In this case it’s the third area code of this form, some others being Cardiff, Aberdeen, Bath and Carlisle.

I think it’s very satisfying learning about the origins of complex systems such as the UK area codes and their history. And now you can too.

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