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From Local to International Calls-Evolution of Telephone Codes

BY Bir Singh October 22, 2020
Country calling codes map.

Country calling codes map. (Maximilian Dörrbecker/Wikimedia Commons)

Telephone codes were introduced to manage the ever-increasing database of telephones worldwide. Calling codes were simple numbers to begin with. The USA got number 1, Africa 2, Europe 3 and 4. These were further classified depending on their load capacity. So, France and UK got catchy two-digit numbers, 33 and 44 respectively. Smaller countries, like Ireland and Iceland, got 3 digits, 353 and 354 respectively. The objective, as per the Red book (1960) of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), was that the code and the telephone number put together should not exceed 11 digits.

Numbers soon got cluttered and unwieldy

The blue book (1964) divided the world into 9 zones. Zone-1 for North America, Zone 2 for Africa, and Zone 3 and 4, for Europe. One to three-digit codes were allotted to different countries. Subsequently, white book (1968) gave code 37 to East Germany. Trucial states (the tribal states in southeastern Arabia) got 971. Zanzibar (a region of Tanzania) got 252. Turkey, its European code 36 discarded, was shifted to zone 9 (Western Asia and the Middle East), and given a new code 90. The Green Book (1972) shifted many Central American countries from zone 1 (North America) to zone 5 (South America). Tribal states in southeastern Arabia got renamed as ‘United Arab Emirates’ and got 971 as calling code. Ceylon and Rhodesia retained their code, 92 and 263, even as their names got changed to Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, respectively.

Digital era brought stability in code profiling

The arrival of the personal computer put an end to regular updating of codebooks. The Republic of Upper Volta got a new name – Burkina Faso but retained old code – 226. The Falkland Islands earlier clubbed with Guatemala, got a separate code – 500. North Korea got a new code – 850. As Germany re-united in 1990, united Germany adopted West Germany’s 49, dropping East Germany’s 37. Eritrea separated from Ethiopia (251) in 1993 and got a new code, 291.

The last shuffle of the 20th century was the Middle East

In 1993, Yugoslavia (38), was replaced with Serbia and Montenegro (381), Croatia (384), Slovenia (386), Bosnia (387) and Macedonia (389). In 1995, Vatican City got a separate code 379; earlier it was clubbed with Italy (39). Czechoslovakia (57) was divided into the Czech Republic (420), and Slovakia (421) in 1997. East Timor separated from Indonesia in 1999 and got the code 670. The same year, Palestine got 970, separate from Israel (972).

Today, only 6 countries retain the codes allotted by the Red Book of 1960. The method, as well as madness (politics), have seemingly decided the codes that are functional today.

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