Wednesday, January 04, 2012

What Is Toll Free?

We’ve all heard the term “toll free number.” Nearly all of us have called a toll free number at one time or another. But just what does that term mean and how do businesses go about getting toll free numbers?

You know that toll free telephone numbers must be something special because you aren’t assigned one automatically. When you order landline, VoIP or cellular telephone service, you are assigned a 10 digit phone number that relates to a specific geographical area. I’ll assume you are located in the US or Canada, which both use the North America Numbering Plan (NANP). Your number is formatted as: 1-NPA-NXX-XXXX.

Here’s how that breaks down. 1 is the trunk code or country code. Other countries use codes other than "1". It used to be that we thought of dialing 1 only to make a long distance call. Nowadays, with multiple area codes for each city, most of us have to dial 1 plus the area code even to make local calls. NPA is the Numbering Plan Area code, also called the area code. You might dial area code 312 for Chicago or 213 for Los Angeles. By knowing the area code, you know roughly where the call is going. That can be manipulated somewhat by VoIP providers, who will assign you whatever area code you want. Do you want people to think your business is in Manhattan? Get a 212 area code.

There are some area codes that have nothing to do with geographical areas. These are the toll free area codes, also called toll free prefixes. “Toll” means a charge by the phone companies for making calls that go outside of your city or local area. Therefore, “toll free” must mean that the calls are free of charge, right?

Actually, toll free is a misnomer. What that term means is that the calls are free for the calling party, who normally pays the toll charges on long distance calls. With a toll free number, the charges are automatically reversed. The caller gets a free call. The person who owns the toll free number gets charged for any incoming calls.

To get a toll free number assigned to you, you have to order one specifically. You can easily do that online from companies that specialize in marketing toll free numbers. There are two different types of toll free calling plans. You can pay a small fee for the number plus a small maintenance charge each month plus the cost of incoming calls by the minute. The other option is to pay a fixed fee each month for use of the toll free number regardless of how many or few calls you receive or how long you talk.

Toll free numbers are easily identified by their prefixes or area codes. The original toll free numbers all used the 800 prefix. Customers call you at your toll free number of 1-800-NXX-XXXX. The NXX-XXXX is your unique toll free number. As long as you are paying for the number, all calls will come to you. If you decide to give up the number, it will eventually be assigned to someone else.

Just how do you get those toll free calls? They come in on whatever phone you assign them to. Unlike a regular phone line, a toll free number isn’t assigned to a particular wired connection or wireless phone. Instead, you assign a “ring-to” number to the toll free number. When a toll free call comes in, it will ring to the phone number that you have specified. That can come in handy if you won’t be near your office phone but are expecting an important call. Change the ring-to number to have your toll free calls sent to your cell phone or other phone. The only thing you can’t do is have one toll free number call another. The ring-to number has to be a real phone line.

Toll free numbers have become so popular that other area codes beyond 800 have also been assigned for toll free service. These include 888, 877, 866 and 855. You can choose any of these prefixes for your toll free number since they all work the same way.

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