Country codes, how did they arise and why?

A country code is what you dial in to call another country. +46 is the country code for Sweden. But how is it that Sweden has that particular number? When were the country codes created and who decided which countries would receive which codes? That is something we are going to give answers to below.

Why was country codes created?

For us, it may sound obvious to have different country codes. But considering that the phone was invented in the 1870s, it took a long time before they were introduced. It was not before the early 1960s that the concept of country codes emerged.

At that time, rotary phones were used, you know those who had a number disc where you rotated one digit at a time. The mechanism in the disk then controlled the rotation counterclockwise to produce pulses down the telephone line. Entering telephone numbers took time and therefore they wanted to avoid telephone numbers being too long. With the country codes, it was ensured that a telephone number never became more than 11 digits.

Who decided how the country codes would be distributed?

It was the ITU – International Telecom Union, a body that contains various countries’ network suppliers, which together agreed on how the different codes would be distributed.

Which countries have which codes?

On a rotary phone, a “1” takes significantly shorter time to enter than a “9”. The countries that were most influential in the telecommunications union, combined with those who had the largest population, were given the shortest and thus the simplest codes to enter. Therefore, it may not be surprising that the US and Canada received the single-digit country code +1. They had a well-developed network and had good contacts with the rest of the world which made this an area that many people were presumed to call.

A bit more surprising may be that Africa got the + 2-series. Europe got the following numbers, +3 and +4. Countries with much influence received “nicer” country codes, such as +33 (France) and +44 (England).

At that time, the then USSR network was rather poorly developed but had a large land mass and large population. Therefore, they got the world’s other single-digit code but with the fairly high number +7. Only North America and the USSR received single-digit codes. The rest of the world later got two or three digits.

Uzbekistan drew the shortest straw, or the longest number, when they were assigned the country number +998.

Politics affects

There is a country code listed as “Reserved” without other comments in the official list of country codes, namely +886. But the fact is that if you use the country code +886 you will call Taiwan. This is because mainland China did not receive any code at all to begin with. Instead, the country code belonged to the People’s Republic of China, which at that time was advocated by Taiwan. The mainland China did not receive its own code because Taiwan still claimed the Chinese mainland. China now has +86 as its country code, but because of China’s influence over this list, Taiwan is not shown in the list of official codes.

If you want to find the country code for a specific country, there are plenty of websites that can help you, for example  CountryCode.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *