The telephone has been essential for ushering in instant global communication. Since its invention in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson, the telephone has continued to evolve. Thomas Edison established the Edison Telephone Company of London in 1879. This was in direct competition with The Telephone Company Ltd, which used Bell's patents. Each company vied for dominance in the market to establish the UK telephone network. The two companies would merge to become the unified United Telephone Company Ltd.
In the UK there was a concern that the private company had a non-governmental monopoly. Therefore, it was ruled that any telephone company must apply for a license from the post office to operate. In the 1930s, it became common for wealthy households to have their own house phone.
However, pay phones such as phone boxes were used by most people in the 1950s and 60s. Usage started to change during this era as phones became more affordable and more people had one in their homes.
In 1958 the first UK area codes were introduced. This meant that people could type in an area code and phone number and be directly transferred to a phone in that area. Before this, when calling a phone number outside of your local area, you had to be re-directed by an operator. This was the beginning of the area code system in the UK, and it was not completed until 1979.
This article will further explain what UK area codes are and what they are used for.
Area codes are used to differentiate regions in the UK. The first UK area codes used letters to separate phone numbers into regions. This was much like the post-code system we have today. However, as more and more people began to use their own home phones, more and more telephone numbers were introduced. This meant that the letter-based area code became redundant as many different areas used the same letters. Instead, they could just add an extra numbered digit to create a new area code.
Area codes allow you to specifically direct your phone calls to a specific area. You can also use the area code of calls from unknown telephone numbers to identify the location the person is calling from. This is useful for spam detection. If a person calls from a specific area you do not recognise, it could signal a spam call. If it is a local number or an area code you recognise, it is more likely to be someone you know that is calling.
Some local businesses are aware of the suspicion of unrecognised area codes. To counteract this, a local business may ensure they have a telephone number with the same area code that they operate in.
How do I find out an area code?
Area codes are a great way to direct a call to a specific geographic location. However, it is no use whatsoever if you do not know which area code is related to which area. The best way to find out what area code you should be using is to use our area code checker. Just enter the location you are trying to reach and press enter. This will give you the exact dialling codes to use.
You can also use this service to manually look up an area code if you do not recognise the caller. Major area codes include:
- Edinburgh - area code, 0131
- Glasgow - area code, 0141
What other dialling codes are there in the UK?
Not all UK telephone numbers will be comprised of geographic area codes. These are called non-geographic telephone numbers as they do not have one single geographic area of origin. These are also called virtual telephone numbers and can be made from any area in the United Kingdom.
There are several different types of geographic dialling codes. For example, telephone numbers beginning with 0800 or 0808 are free to the caller. Phone numbers beginning with 03 are charged at the same rate as when dialling a local number.
Customers should be wary when calling a telephone number beginning with; 084, 087, 118, or 09. These are premium rate numbers that charge callers per minute when making a call. A telephone number beginning 09 can cost around £3.60 per minute.
Why do some businesses use non-geographical numbers?
Although local companies can benefit from using local area codes, it is less helpful for larger businesses. For example, it is less confusing to use the same telephone number and same dialling codes for a company that has several branches across the UK. This way, the one company phone number unifies the different branches under one umbrella. They can then be transferred to the correct department if applicable. Otherwise, a company with many different branches will have to list multiple area codes and phone numbers which will likely cause confusion. It is also easier to market one single telephone number when trying to draw in customers.
It also enhances the credibility of a company and its status as a UK-wide business. For example, if you saw that a business used a local area code, you may be mistaken for thinking it only operates in that area.
Even if your company is small, you may still benefit from a non-geographic telephone number. If you plan to expand your company and branch out as it grows, you are better off keeping a non-location restricted telephone number. This way, you won't need to keep changing area codes when you re-locate or open a new branch.
What are country codes?
Much like area codes, a country code is a pre-fix dialling code that directs calls to a specific area. However, instead of directing the caller to a local location, it will connect them to that country. These international dialling codes are managed by the International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector.
For example, the country code for the UK is +44. So, if you were dialling the UK from abroad, you would dial in the International Direct Dialling code of the country you are dialling from. Then you would dial the country code you are trying to reach, then the area code, if applicable, and finally the telephone number. If you are calling a mobile phone number, you do not need an area code, and you can miss the first zero on the telephone number.
What changes will be made to landline telephones?
As of 2021, almost all adults in the UK use a mobile phone. Statista estimates that 88% of all adults in the UK own a smartphone. This does not even include people that choose to use 'dumb phones'. Many people are now choosing to reverse the trend and switch back to simpler phones. Privacy and smartphone addiction/distraction are the main points of contention. So, with so many people using mobile phones, smart and dumb, is there any need for landlines?
Well, landline phones are being replaced or at least the system they use is being replaced. As of 2025, the analogue system that the telephone network runs off will be replaced. Instead, it will use an internet-based system called an IP network. If you still use a landline telephone number, you do not need to take any action. Your telephone network provider will be in touch to inform you of any actions that need to be taken. For most people, it will be a simple switch involving plugging your phone into your router. Furthermore, it is unlikely that you will need to change your telephone number.
Since its inception in 1876, the telephone has gone a long way. Such was its popularity, in 1958, area codes had to be introduced. This allowed people to make direct calls to other locations using an area code - without having to speak to an operator.
Area codes are a good way to recognise if a call is likely to be spam or someone you know. This is because the area code will signify where a number has come from. If it is from an area of someone you know or an area you are expecting a phone call from, it may suggest it is not a spam call. A local company may use a local number and local area codes to show they are available in that location. You can use an online service or website to find out different area codes.
Other dialling codes are used by businesses, including numbers starting with:
Some of these are premium rate numbers.
Some businesses use non-geographical numbers as it is good for business. It simplifies all branches under one telephone number, recognises them as a national business, and it means they do not need to change their number if they re-locate.
If you are making international calls, you also have to enter an International Direct Dialling code and a country code. The country code in the UK is +44.
In 2025 the analogue system that the Uk telephone network runs on will be replaced by an internet-based system. This means that anyone that wants to keep a landline will need an internet connection.