The 204 represents a shared collective identity in Manitoba as much as it is an area code. The 584 may never hold the same cache, but it too will become a provincial symbol once it likely becomes Manitoba’s third — and newest — area code.
The supply of available Manitoba phone numbers, using the 204 or 431 area code, will be largely depleted by June 2024, a recent estimate suggests.
“Slowly but surely, all of these numbers are being used up,” said Kelly Walsh, program manager at the Canadian Numbering Administrator, the corporation assigning telecommunication brands with phone numbers.
By then, the various providers will need a new batch of phone numbers to give out. The numbers will have the 584 area code, barring some complication once the relief planning committee — announced last month — starts meeting, Walsh said.
Hanging up on the 204, 431
He explained phone numbers beginning with 204 and 431 will still become available when people disconnect their numbers or move away, but “certainly the bulk of any requests would be under that” 584 area code. No existing customers will be required to change their numbers, he said.
The CNA is the neutral third party assigning area codes, as well as CO codes — the three-digit prefix following an area code in a phone number.
Within the roughly 800 CO codes in an area code, there are approximately 10,000 number combinations. Some numbers are off-limits, such as CO codes beginning with the number zero.
Walsh said the proliferation of cell phones has drained the stock of phone numbers, but not entirely. He said technologies such as the internet of things and parking meters consume available numbers, as do the arrival of new phone providers. For example, Xplornet became Manitoba’s fourth wireless carrier in 2018.
“The more competitive carriers that are in one area, that would certainly drive [phone number] exhaust as well,” he said.
Last month, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced it would strike a relief planning committee, chaired by the CNA and comprised of phone providers, to consider next steps for Manitoba’s phone number supply. Members of the public can take part.
In 2017, the CRTC proposed the 584 area code be reserved for Manitoba. They estimated the province would run out of phone numbers by 2027.
Manitoba started using 204 area code in 1947 and the 413 number — along with mandatory 10-digit dialling for local calls — in 2012.
Original area codes can possess a cultural significance in some circles, with the 204 number plastered on shirts, and forming the name of a local pizza joint and vodka brand.
Walsh recognizes people’s attachment with historical area codes, but he explains the number arrangement is immaterial now that rotary phones are relics of the past and mobile devices are the rage.
“Once upon a time, I probably thought it meant a little something to me, but it’s really just an address,” he said.
“There’s an exhaustive resource and we just need to add more to the pool. Unfortunately based on our numbering system, you can’t add more to the same area code, so something has to give.”