Why Do Mobile Numbers Have Exactly 10 Digits? Why Not Less?

Table of Contents (click to expand)

The number of digits in a mobile number depends on the number of combinations those numbers can offer, without dialing the country code.

Imagine you have two cards and two envelopes—2 are blue, and two are yellow. Now, how many possible ways can you arrange them in a pair?

Blue card-Yellow card, Blue card-blue envelope, Blue envelope-yellow envelope, blue envelope-blue card; 4 ways.

This answer could also be predicted using ‘Permutations and Combinations,’ simply math combined with logic.

Simply put, the equation is this: 2 (no. of cards) x 2 (no. of envelopes) = 4.

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Phone Numbers And Population Explosion

It may not seem related, but the same principle can be applied to the number of digits in mobile phone numbers. This depends on the number of mobile phone users, as there should be more available mobile numbers than users.

mobile growth in india
Growth of mobile users in India. (Photo Credit: Public Domain Picture / Wikimedia Commons)

As of March 4, 2024, the population of India is estimated to be 1,437,460,137 by the United Nations. With an expected exponential increase in population to 1.7 billion by 2060, there must be more available mobile numbers than the current estimate.

Also Read: Why Are ATM Card PINs Usually Just 4-Digit Long?

All About Numbers

Returning to Permutations and Combinations, how many single-digit numbers do we know? 10.

Thus, if phone numbers were to have two digits, how many different number combinations would be available? 10 x 10 = 100.

Similarly, if phone numbers were to have nine digits, this would only satisfy 1,000 million (100 crores) subscribers.

Hence, the 10-digit mobile number. This offers us 10 billion different combinations, and as for the global population, it is highly unlikely to exceed this capacity.

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What Do The Digits Of A Mobile Phone Number Represent?

What does an Indian mobile number represent?

Well, it’s not just a group of numbers strung out at random. All mobile numbers have 3 things in common: a 2-digit Access Code (AC), a 3-digit Provider Code (PC), and a 5-digit Subscriber Code (SC). Let’s consider the following mobile number:





The Need For Eleven Digits

Mobile Numbers Made In China

However, like all mundane things, there are exceptions to the 10-digit mobile number, and no, it’s not because of the country code.

China has an 11-digit phone number excluding its country code (+86), and although America has already reserved the country code ‘+1’ for itself, all numbers start with 1 in China!

Keyboard Mobile Phone Telefonia Numbers Keys
All mobile numbers in China start with 1. (Photo Credit: MaxPixel)

Let’s assume the following to be an administered mobile number:

13 5643 5467

My first assumption is that this is not an old mobile number because the oldest GSM (Global System of Mobile) numbers start with 1390, and the second oldest starts with 1380, going down in descending order as the number becomes more recent.

Unsurprisingly, old GSM numbers are associated with loyal and reliable users, thus making them trustworthy.

Now, notice the first three digits. They reveal certain information about the designated service provider, so looking at 135 as the prefix, I can say that China Mobile Communications Corporation provides the user with its network.

Another interesting fact about Chinese mobile numbers is that they must dial an additional ‘0’ (City Code) before all phone numbers to make calls, even within mainland China!

Hence, this example mobile number, when used, becomes an 11-digit number: 013 5643 5467

Numbers From The UK

China is not alone in following this ‘0’ trend. Most numbers in the UK comprise 11 digits (excluding the Country Code +44).

This is because the phone numbers contain an ‘Area code’ (or STD Code) and then the ‘Actual Number,’ usually in combinations of 3 and 8, 4 and 7, and 5 and 6, respectively.

For example, the Area Code for Leicester is 0116, and the mobile number is 986 6574. In this case, the entire number would be dialed as 0116 986 6574.

Understanding Numbers

Mobile numbers are sometimes referred to as the address of a person for a very good reason.

When speaking globally, the Mobile Station International Subscriber Dictionary Number (MSISDN) and The International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) identify mobile subscribers internationally.

3 parts of all mobile numbers.
3 parts of all mobile numbers. (Photo Credit: Taonix/Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s consider the following mobile number:



CC (Country Code: Specific for every country) = +1 (US)

NDC (National Destination Code: Area code) = 210

SN (Subscriber Number) = 7457467

Last Updated By: Ashish Tiwari

References (click to expand)
  1. Holt, J., & Palm, M. (2021, March 7). More than a number: The telephone and the history of digital identification. European Journal of Cultural Studies. SAGE Publications.
  2. Age variations in immediate memory for multiple-digit ....
  3. Telephone numbers.
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