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How Did We Invent International Calling Codes?

April 2, 2015

The CCITT (Comité Consultatif International Téléphonique et Télégraphique) devised a precursor system for international calling codes in Europe in the early 1960s. Guess which European country housed the CCITT? While it's still unclear how widely they were used or known, that list formed the basis of global calling for the late twentieth and early twenty­first centuries.

The CCITT has since become known as the ITU—the International Telecommunication Union—as an agency for the United Nations. It facilitates communication between countries and isolated regions in a capacity similar to how the World trade Organization and the International Chamber of Commerce facilitate trade between countries and trade blocs around the world.

So the CCITT, now the ITU, divided the world into zones for communication identification. Each 'zone' starts with a number between 1 and 9, although some world zones only use a single digit instead of a string of numbers. For example: North American numbers being with the international calling code +1, and Russian countries begin with +7.

Most world zones contain global calling codes that precede the main telephone number with two or three digits. International calls made to a number in Belgium begin with +32, while global calls made to Ireland begin with +353. They both begin with '3' because European numbers belong to the third world zone. You can check out the list of them all at the World Telephone Numbering Guide, although it's pretty old at this point!

Here is a quick breakdown of the World Zones:

1 - North American countries get this designation. That includes Caribbean islands as well; the list extends far beyond Canada, the United States, and Mexico!

2 - Africa is the second World Zone.

3 - Europe laid claim the third World Zone.

4 - Europe also claimed the fourth World Zone. The population density exceeds many other countries like Canada, but the concept for international calling codes originated there too. Europe also led industrialization, so its countries have been developed for a very long time.

5 - South America is the fifth World Zone.

6 - Australia and nearby "oceanic countries" that aren't clearly grouped with a particular continent in the Pacific region comprise the sixth World Zone. This would include New Zealand, the Polynesian Islands, and others like them.

7 - Russia, formerly the USSR, is the seventh World Zone. It just uses one number, like North America, although one or two ex­Soviet bloc countries still use the +7 calling code today.

8 ­ East Asia is the eighth World Zone. Hong Kong retained its old international code after Britain returned control of it to China, incidentally.

9 - West Asia and the Middle East comprise the ninth World Zone.

Some smaller or remote countries actually lack a calling code altogether, but this is the general pattern for the whole world. A plethora of new countries were added to the list of international codes over the decades since the 1960s, so they will probably become available as time moves forward. Some regions have a split system, with particular locations within a given region corresponding to the code of the sovereign state that has claimed the land.

That's how the world came up with international calling codes! Get in touch with us at G3 Telecom so that we can help you get in touch with the people you want to see!

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