A telephone number is a sequence of digits assigned to a fixed-line telephone subscriber station connected to a telephone line or to a wireless electronic telephony device, such as a radio telephone or a mobile telephone, or to other devices for data transmission via the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or other public and private networks.
A telephone number serves as an address for switching telephone calls using a system of destination code routing. Telephone numbers are entered or dialed by a calling party on the originating telephone set, which transmits the sequence of digits in the process of signaling to a telephone exchange. The exchange completes the call either to another locally connected subscriber or via the PSTN to the called party. Telephone numbers are assigned within the framework of a national or regional telephone numbering plan to subscribers by telephone service operators, which may be commercial entities, state-controlled administrations, or other telecommunication industry associations.
Telephone numbers were first used in 1879 in Lowell, Massachusetts, when they replaced the request for subscriber names by callers connecting to the switchboard operator. Over the course of telephone history, telephone numbers had various lengths and formats, and even included most letters of the alphabet in leading positions when telephone exchange names were in common use until the 1960s.
Telephone numbers are often dialed in conjunction with other signaling code sequences, such as vertical service codes, to invoke special telephone service features.