Self-described numbering nerd Heidi Wayman says she and her boss are the only two people in the United States to know what Nassau County’s newest area code will be after 516 essentially runs out of phone numbers — forecast for sometime in June 2023.
And she’s not telling.
"That area code is kept confidential until we’re ready to go," said Wayman, a manager working for the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, which rolls out new area codes whenever numbers within the existing supply are exhausted.
She explained: "We wouldn’t want it ever to be leaked out and have, maybe, carriers do work on something, and have it cost them time and money, complications if it hit the news" — perhaps a different area code is ultimately chosen or the plan not approved.
Whatever the new area code — joining 631, which in 1999 became Suffolk’s, splitting from Islandwide 516; and 934, Suffolk’s second area code, which debuted in 2016 — phone numbers with the new code will likely start being assigned in the fourth quarter of 2022 or the first quarter of 2023, Wayman said.
The new code was among a bloc of three-digit permutations set aside years ago for this eventuality.
Nassau's new area code is expected to be overlaid — meaning, it will be used throughout the entire geographic area for new telecom services, but leaving existing phone numbers unaffected, according to a news release Wednesday from the New York State Public Service Commission. It's seeking public comments on, and must approve, the switch.
Still, the new area code doesn’t mean that every possible 516 number will have been assigned to a customer by June of 2023. It means that the North American Numbering Plan Administrator is out of available prefixes — the first three digits of a phone number after the area code — to assign to carriers, Wayman said. But carriers might still have some 516 numbers in inventory, she said.
And starting Oct. 24, 2021, callers dialing within the 516 area code must dial the full 10-digit phone number, even within that area code. No more seven-digit dialing, she said. Joining 516 in the new requirement are the 607 (Southern Tier), 716 (Buffalo area), 845 (the Hudson Valley) and 914 (Westchester), she said.
The 10-digit requirement prevents callers intending to dial seven-digit phone numbers beginning with the prefix "988" from mistakenly connecting to the forthcoming suicide-prevention hotline "988," which will start accepting calls beginning in July across the United States.
About slightly less than half of area codes nationwide still allowed seven-digit dialing as of Dec. 2020, according to Wayman, who works for the Federal Communications Commissioner contractor SomosGov Inc.
The North American Numbering Plan — dating back to 1947 and now serving 20 North American countries that use 10-digit numbers, with the initial three-digits signifying area code — was implemented to simplify long-distance dialing.
With demand for more and more phone numbers over the years — nowadays, not just phones, but Wi-Fi hot spots, OnStar and other unexpected devices also sometimes having separate numbers — new area codes open up.
Until about 60 years ago, Nassau County had the 212 area code now reserved only for Manhattan. That year, Nassau was switched to 516, which at the time was assigned to Suffolk.
"What Hath the Phone Co. Wrought?" asked a Newsday headline Jan. 16, 1962, heralding "the new numbers game you're forced to play in making a telephone call these days."