New area codes coming to Canada due to high demand by mobile devices

Map of Canadian area codes from the CNAOver the next decade, many Canadians will be seeing new area codes in their parts of the country, and the high demand by mobile devices is largely the reason why.

But it’s not just the activation of mobile devices that’s causing this need for more telephone numbers, it’s the ways we’re using them, too.

Glenn Pilley, Director of the Canadian Numbering Administrator, explained to Yahoo! Canada News that while mobile phones do play a significant role in the number of phone numbers a person has, there’s a variety of apps and other mobile devices like tablets that are using those phone numbers, too.

“Items like iPads, which use cell phone frequencies, are assigned telephone numbers,” Pilley explained. Many of tablets on today's market can operate on the 4G or LTE networks in Canada, the network as cellular devices. In order to operate on those networks, the device needs its own phone number.

Pilley added that there are also apps on many mobile devices which can be used for text messaging via data service instead of the limited number of text messages available through a wireless plan. There are also apps that can control devices remotely, such as garage door openers you can ‘call’ and lights you can control through your phone while you’re kilometers away.

“Even without my cell phones, I’ve got a home, office and fax number,” Pilley said, explaining how one person can have multiple phone numbers. “And I’ve got three cell phones – that’s not including my wife or my kids’ cell phones.”

While not everyone might have as many phone numbers in use as Pilley, there’s an average of about three numbers per person in metropolitan regions like the Greater Toronto Area. With about 7.5 million numbers available in a given area code, that leads to the need for a lot of phone numbers, which means Canadians are seeing a lot of new area codes.

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Back in November, Manitoba was the first to get a new 431 area code added, bringing 10-digit dialing to the province for the first time. Next month, Toronto will get 437 added to its current 416 and 647 area codes, followed by the neighbouring Golden Horseshoe region, which will see 365 added to the current 905 and 289. Within the year, 236 will be available to all of B.C. Residents in Nova Scotia and PEI should anticipate new area codes coming about November 2014, followed by a new number in the 519/226 region of Ontario, and a new number in Alberta in the next five years.

As shown by this rough timeline, the Canadian Numbering Administrator looks ahead six years at a time when planning which regions will get a new area code. That planning is largely based on central office codes, known to the rest of us as the three digits following the area code in our phone numbers. Each CO code can have 10,000 phone numbers associated with it, and there are about 750 usable CO codes with each area code (since numbers like 411 and 911 can’t be assigned, and others are used for different purposes like testing). Once those 7.5 million numbers are used up, it’s time for a new area code, and depending on the region, that takes about eight years.

“When we were working on 647,” it turned out 416 was almost completely used up by the time [the new area code] was in place in 2000.” Pilley said of the Toronto area. “Now, probably about six to seven million people are using 647.”

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And while smartphones and apps are having a big impact on the speed at which we need new phone numbers, that need could diminish in the coming years as the use of VOIP technology increases. Already Pilley says he’s seen a decrease in the speed at which we’ll need to eventually switch to 11-digit phone numbers system in North America and the Caribbean. As it currently stands, that’s likely to happen in about thirty years.

“If you had asked me this five years ago, I would have said 2035, now it’s 2042,” said Pilley. “But you never know when that projection may move back out or in.”

For more information on the new area codes coming to Canada and how they’re assigned, visit the FAQ page of the Canadian Numbering Administrator.

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