Area Codes

Area Codes

Why Area Codes Can’t Be Trusted

When you ring a number, most of us assume that the first part of it tells us where in the UK we are calling.  And in many cases, this is right. But there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if you see a familiar area code on a TV advert, on a website or even on the Caller Display screen, there is no guarantee that the number is calling from that area.  And sometimes incorrect or misleading numbers are displayed, either on purpose or by accident.

Geographic numbers

When the first country-wide phone network was being created, the technology meant that the geographically based system was the only option available.  Individual phones were connected via a dispersed network of thousands of telephone exchanges. Calls were directed around the country with basic electro-mechanical equipment.  There was no computing ability and needed a structured, hierarchical number plan that matched up with a physical network to function.

One of the ways that this was done was with the use of geographically-based dialling codes.  The simple system for area codes remained in place right until the 1990s, when an extra number was added for a telephone line connected in each area.

Area codes today

Today, most homes and businesses have phone lines that are associated with their physical location and use local exchanges.  Their telephone numbers follow a traditional pattern. But there is no guarantee that a dialling code is geographically based.  There are several reasons why area codes can’t be trusted:

  1. Virtual business numbers

Any business can buy a virtual number for an area code and these aren’t assigned to a traditional phone line.  Instead, they can receive calls at whatever location the owner of the number chooses. So a business could have a virtual number that appears to be in London, but their real offices are in Manchester.  Or even outside the UK.

  1. VOIP services

Voice over Internet Protocol services including Skype use calls made over the internet rather than through the traditional phone network.  This means there’s no physical location associated with the service and the caller can be anywhere in the world. In 2004, Ofcom allowed providers of these services to make use of normal geographic numbers without being tied into a location as well as dedicated numbers that start with 056.

Since then, many homes and businesses have been issued with landline numbers for VOIP services.  These can’t be distinguished from normal landline numbers. Often people choose a number for the area in which they live but they don’t have to.

  1. Landlines for mobiles

Another development is where mobile phone companies offer customers a local landline number for their mobile rather than a conventional mobile number starting with 07.  This is popular with people who are self-employed or small businesses who want to relate themselves with a local area but want to the flexibility of calls coming to a mobile.

  1. Private networks

Many large companies have their own private telephone and data network that can cover huge areas of the country.  In these, blocks of standard landline numbers are provided to ‘direct dial’ from the public phone network without always following the same patterns as standard phone lines.

For example, a nationwide organisation might have a block of numbers based on where the head office is located.  These numbers are then spread out around the country because it is easier and cheaper than assigning geographically based numbers.

  1. Caller display accuracy

Finally, many of us have come to bank on Caller Display to tell us who is ringing or to use the 1471 Caller ID to see who rang.  But numbers given to these services aren’t always accurate and cannot always be relied on.

One of the reasons for this is that companies can choose which number to show as a Caller ID when making outbound calls.  So the company could choose a UK number, but they are actually somewhere else in the world.

Secondly, the system for Caller ID isn’t that secure and individuals and businesses can display false numbers.  The fraudster, for instance, will use a local number to appear more trustworthy but the number might actually relate to a completely different, unconnected company.

Call charges

While there are lots of changes that have affected the area dialling code system, the call costs themselves are fairly standard.  Whether you are ringing a local landline or a virtual number across the world, you will pay the standard charge for the type of number you are ringing.  Extra costs are forwarded to the organisation you are calling.

This means all 01, 02 and 03 numbers will charge at standard UK landline rates.  There are only a few exceptions such as 01481, 01534 and 01624 which are for the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, where calls are more expensive.