Assigning phone numbers isn’t as straight forward as you might think
Saskatchewan’s new area code will come into effect as early as 2022.
Currently, the province has two area codes, 306 and 639.
According to a report from the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Council (CRTC), the province will run out of phone numbers by 2022. The second area code, 639, was added in 2013.
The new area code was designated in 2010 as 474.
The CRTC will be engaging in public consultation to determine how to roll out the new area code, as one possible solution might be to see the province’s area codes split. To engage in the planning process, visit cnac.ca or call 613-563-7242.
The last time Saskatchewan got a new area code, it was overlayed, meaning anyone in a 306 was now also in a 639. In a split, part of the province would get a new area code. This would mean some people might need to change their phone numbers.
But with a ew area code coming in so recently, many may wonder, why do we need a new one so soon?
The answer lies in the way phone numbers are allocated.
While mathematically, a seven-digit phone number has 10 million possibilities, it’s not quite that simple.
It comes down to the way phone numbers are set out for the phone system. Once an area code comes in, it’s not a free for all. Someone in Prince Albert couldn’t have, for example, a phone number of 639-311-1234.
Think of it like an address.
The first three numbers are your area – in the case of 306 or 639, Saskatchewan. The next three are your carrier and your location.
According to the Canadian Number Administrator (CNA), which administers Canada’s phone numbers, Phone numbers consist of an area code, a central office code and a line number.
In the Daily Herald’s phone number, for instance, 306 is the area code, 764 the central office code and 4276 the line number.
As you dial, the numbers you input indicate where your call is headed, like coordinates on a grid. Area – central office – line.
When a new area code comes into effect, phone companies receive batches of central office codes for each municipality. Those numbers, the second set in a 10-digit phone number, indicates where you’re calling and who operates that phone line.
The last four digits are your individual line.
Once a central office code has been established, it can’t be reused elsewhere, except in exceptional circumstances.
Other rules also exist – numbers like 911 or 411 can’t be used as the central office code, because when you dial those numbers on your phone, you’re already dialling that code, not an area code.
In Saskatchewan, 310 also can’t be designated, nor can any of the other area codes. That means, for example, you couldn’t have 306-639 as your first six digits. Central office codes also start at 200, eliminating anything between 000 and 199.
What this also means is an area code becomes exhausted well before all mathematic possibilities have been used.
According to charts available on the CNA website, 306 has been exhausted because all possible central office codes have been designated, even though there aren’t 10 million unique phone numbers in Saskatchewan.
It also means, since there are four 10,000 possible unique variations of a four-digit phone number, smaller communities have far more possible numbers than they would ever use, numbers that can’t be redistributed to other municipalities like Saskatoon or Regina.
Hudson Bay, for example, has a population of 1,504.
Three carriers operate in the area: SaskTel, SaskTel Mobility and TELUS Mobility.
Each is allocated a central office code. Those codes can’t be used elsewhere in Saskatchewan.
That means Hudson Bay alone has about 30,000 possible phone numbers, but will only use a few thousand.
The area code 306 has been exhausted. There are no more available central office codes. The 639 area code still has a good chunk left. But according to the CRTC, those will also be used up by 2022.
Prince Albert, for the record, has been allocated 306- 314, 557, 703, 763, 764, 765, 797, 904, 922, 930, 940, 941, 953, 960, 961, 970, 980, 981 and 987.
The city also has six central office codes associated with area code 639: 222, 300, 314, 344, 533 and 760. That means the Prince Albert area is currently allocated, mathematically speaking, 260,000 numbers.
If you’re in an area with a carrier that hasn’t allocated all of its 306 numbers, you could still get one. But if not, you’ll get a 639, and before too long, a 474.