The latest news from North Korea should make us grateful we are not in the business there.  On word that several North Korean phone directories had been smuggled outside of the country, the country’s leader, Kim Jung-un, ordered that ALL phone numbers in the country be changed … randomly and without warning!

Here’s some nostalgia to put this in perspective. Here in the US, it began with  something called the “fax machine.” This was a device that scanned documents and then transmitted them via phone lines to a distant location. Faxes were the email of their day, but to get the real-time delivery benefits of faxing, you needed a separate phone line for your fax machine so that it was always available to send and receive. This created a huge jump in demand for new phone lines, and thus, new phone numbers.

If fax machines weren’t enough, we also had the advent of mobile phones, each of which demanded its own phone number. Phone companies ran out of available phone numbers in existing area codes, and begin the seemingly endless process of introducing new area codes (73 in just the past ten years), creating endless amounts of new work for data publishers in the process.

Those of you in the trenches for all this fun may also recall that the phone companies initially favored the dreaded area code “splits,” where half the people in an existing area code would be assigned a new area code. After much complaining, particularly from businesses that had to change signage, stationery and more, the phone companies moved to “overlay” area codes, where all new phone number requests in an existing area code simply received numbers with the new area code.

That’s another quaint aspect of area codes in the old days – they used to define specific geographies. But with the growth of both toll-free numbers, VOIP phones and number portability, your phone number no longer necessarily ties you to any geographic area.

Of course, for all the angst and additional work these changes have caused, at least they were systematic.  And if you are looking for expansion opportunities in 2018, North Korea appears wide open. 

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