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Home » History » What is a Toll Free Number?

What is a Toll Free Number?

what is toll free number

A toll free number is a telephone number that customers can call for free. A businesses will subscribe to a toll free call forwarding service, and bear the calling costs, because customers are more likely to dial a toll free number.


AT&T introduced automated toll free 800 services in 1966 for intrastate calls and in 1967 for interstate calls. Inward Wide Area Telephone Service (InWATS) was the system name. The issuance of US Patent 4191860A on March 4, 1980, to Roy P Weber of Bell Telephone Laboratories, allowed AT&T to replace the InWATS system. The patent title was, “Data Base Communication Call Processing Method”.

At the time, long-distance calls were very expensive. This new processing method reduced costs significantly, which allowed small business to subscribe to the 800 service.

Presently, there are six toll free codes in the US: 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844. Area codes 833, 822, 880 through 887, and 889 are in reserve for future use. Unlike the US, foreign countries use various number prefixes.

The FCC is responsible for regulating the use of toll free numbers. Toll free international calls are facilitated using international call forwarding, the best service that GCF provides.

The FCC designated SOMOS, Inc (formerly SMS/800) to administer the Service Management System (SMS) Database for the RespOrgs and the Service Control Points (SCPs). The SCPs help control intelligent network telephone systems.

How Does Toll Free Work?

The following steps outline the process for connecting toll free calls.

  1. The caller makes the call.
  2. The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) receives the call.
  3. Service control points at the PSTN route the call to a gateway based on the area codes, the gateway being a domestic or international call-forwarding network.
  4. The local carrier for the destination’s locale receives the call.
  5. Finally, the call reaches the designated destination.

What Are Vanity Numbers?

A vanity number is one that uses mnemonics to aid in remembering the number. For example, 800-GOT-JUNK is easier to remember than 800-468-5865. Studies, of video and broadcast advertisements, have shown an 84% improvement in recall when vanity numbers are used in place of numeric toll free numbers.

Are Toll Free Numbers Obsolete?

In 1967, long-distance calls were very expensive. As a result, the use of toll free numbers spread quickly. However, 50 years later, many landline phone services offer free long distance. In addition, time and number of calls determine cell phone fees; this applies to domestic and long distance calls. So what is the benefit of toll free?

Communication and marketing studies have consistently shown that toll free numbers and international call forwarding are beneficial to businesses by maintaining connections to customers. The toll free numbers give a virtual presence in all advertising and promotional media. Customers have one number to call, and the calls reach the appropriate destinations via call forwarding. Some of the special features offered by Global Call Forwarding include advanced call forwarding, simultaneous or sequential ringing, call recording, and voicemail. The answer to the above question is that toll free is definitely not obsolete.

Telephone versus Digital Media

Internet-driven communications play an increasing role for businesses. Having an online presence is very important. However, sales managers agree that live conversations provide a direct path to sales. Studies show that customers prefer to speak directly to their suppliers. In addition, a recent American Express study found that 90% of respondents wanted live representatives to handle their questions over the telephone.

There are differences, however, in the types of toll free number subscriptions. Global Call Forwarding provides vanity 800 toll free numbers, numeric toll free numbers and local phone numbers. Subsequent paragraphs discuss these differences.

Vanity 800 Toll Free Numbers

Vanity numbers are the easiest to remember. Many studies prove this. (However, a suitable one may not always be available.) Cell tracking systems associated with these numbers provide valuable call data for businesses.

Numeric Toll Free Numbers

Numeric toll free numbers are harder to remember than vanity numbers, but they still provide users with valuable call data. They also provide a single point of contact for promotional displays, advertisements, and web pages.

Local Numbers

Local numbers are best for smaller businesses, which cover a limited geographic area, or for rural businesses. The area code recognition resonates with local customers, and it is effective for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for locally based, internet searches.


Since 1967, using toll free numbers in advertising has produced results by allowing businesses to connect with their customers. As we all know, effective communication leads to increased customer satisfaction, which leads to increased sales. Social media, web pages, and other digital content are important elements of business identity. However, many clients and customers still prefer direct telephone contact.

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