In the North American Numbering Plan (NANP), interchangeable NPA and central office codes constituted a change in numbering plan design and policy, to mitigate exhaustion of the numbering resources of the ten-digit telephone numbers used in the closed numbering plan of the NANP.
Interchangeable NPA and central office codes are codes that permit any of the ten numerals in the middle position of the area code and the central office code, which both are three-digit numbers. This change in numbering format was implemented first for central office codes by 1973, which eliminated the restriction in the middle digit (2 to 9) to permit 0 and 1, which were the only permitted digits for the middle position of the area code. In 1995, this restriction for area codes was lifted as well, creating interchangeable NPA codes.
History and background
The ten-digit telephone numbers of the NANP consist of a three-digit numbering plan area code (NPA code), written as the most-significant part of the telephone number, followed by the three-digit central office code, and the four-digit local line or station number.
From 1947 to 1995, all NPA codes were distinguished with the digits 0 or 1 as the middle digit. This provided the traditional format N 0/1 X, where N is any digit from 2 to 9, and X is any of the ten numerals. This format provided a set of 160 combinations, but only 144 were in use for geographic NPA code. N00 and N11 were reserved for special service codes. In contrast, central office codes had the format N N X, forbidding digits 0 and 1 in the middle position.
These formats permitted direct distinction of NPA codes from central office prefixes by examination of the second digit dialed, which was necessary for automatic recognition of seven-digit dialing for calls within the local calling area, especially with common control switching equipment. Seven-digit dialing was standardized starting in the 1940s, in preparation of the Direct Distance Dialing (DDD) system, and was mostly complete in all but the most isolated or rural areas by 1970. DDD service for subscribers commenced in 1951 in Englewood, NJ.
The Bell System engineers expected that the first numbering plan areas to require more than the 640 possible central office code would not occur before c. 1973. The solution for expanding the numbering pool within an NPA was to remove the restriction posed by not using 0 and 1 in the middle position of central office codes. This made central office codes and area code interchangeable.
An interchangeable NPA code and an interchangeable central office code is a code that permits any of the ten numerals in the middle position of the code.
Interchangeable central office codes
By 1971 the North American network had been prepared for operation with central office codes that permitted the digits 0 and 1 as the middle digit, i.e. with the number format NXX (less N11), where N=2–9, and X=0–9. Starting in c. 1974, large American cities (Los Angeles and New York City) began introducing office codes of this format, to keep up with demand while postponing area code splits by a few more years.
In step-by-step offices, implementation usually required dialing an extra prefix to signal the dialing of a long-distance call with area code; 112 and 115 were early choices, but 1 became eventually common. In geographically small numbering plan areas that already were a single local calling area, it did not cause confusion in long-distance dialing, but in some cases, it became necessary to implement ten-digit dialing of long-distance calls within the same area code. This necessity was more common as interchangeable central office codes were introduced in more area codes. In the late 1980s, Bellcore, which administered the North American Numbering Plan, made it mandatory to implement interchangeable central office codes before area code relief would be approved. Thus, ten-digit dialing became more common in many area codes.
Interchangeable NPA codes
By 1990, Bellcore determined the need for interchangeable NPA codes, which would be implemented no sooner than January 1, 1995. By that date, all telephone callers, even those in area codes that did not yet have interchangeable central office codes, would be required to dial all ten digits for long-distance calls, including such calls within the same area code. Canadian telephone companies made the change in Fall 1994 outside of area code 905, which had already implemented the requirement (before the split from 416) in 1990. The implementation of interchangeable area codes added 640 new codes to the numbering pool.
The introduction of interchangeable codes required new technology for distinguishing a subscriber's intent of dialing seven or ten digits. Two methods were available, timing and extra prefixes. In the timing solution, the switching equipment would wait for more digits only for a critical time-out interval of three to five seconds. Such timing measurements were not necessary when no ambiguity existed from pretranslation. The preferred arrangement, over timing, was the prefix method, in which the subscriber had to start dialing ten-digit calls with a 0 or 1 preceding the full telephone number. The preference was based on Bell System behavioral research, but technical aspect also favored this arrangement in some cases, in that it could shorten post-dial delay with new equipment.
The first interchangeable NPA code was area code 334 in Alabama, followed by area code 360 in Washington state only one minute later, both entering mandatory use on January 15, 1995. Had ten-digit dialing not been made mandatory, customers in any other North American area code, trying to call the new 334 and 360 codes, would instead have had their dialing attempt misdirected, with the three extra digits ignored and the call instead routed to the 334 or 360 central office within their own area code.
- North American Numbering Plan Administration (1993-01-13). "Status of Numbering Plan Area (NPA) Codes in World Zone 1, Bellcore Information Letter IL–93/01-017" (PDF). Bellcore. Retrieved 2020-08-21.
- AT&T Network Planning Division, Notes on the Network, Section 2 (1980)
- AT&T, Notes on Distance Dialing, section 4, p.6 (1968).
- Bell Telephone Laboratories Staff, Engineering and Operations in the Bell System, 2nd Edition (1984). p.118