Phone Numbers: Local, Virtual, Lookup [2024]

December 28, 2023 | By Sam Pelton
Cartoon representation with split screen of old-fashioned phone and a modern smartphone

Phone numbers are a part of everyday life.

There are by some reports over 11 billion phone numbers across the world.

While phone numbers used to be typically confined to one per household, now they are often one per household member.

With how commonplace phone numbers are, they may raise several questions for people to consider—such as, how do I look up a phone number? What different types of phone numbers are there? How can I use them for my business? What even is a phone number, really?

In this article, we’ll walk you through those questions so that you can get the answers you’re looking for.

Let’s start with the basics.

What Are Phone Numbers?

In the realm of telecommunications, phone numbers are unique identifiers assigned to individuals or entities to facilitate communication. These numbers, typically composed of a sequence of digits, act as gateways to establish connections via phone lines or wireless networks.

In other words, phone numbers serve as unique addresses, much like physical addresses for homes, ensuring accurate connections between callers or texters.

Phone numbers typically comprise a series of digits, often divided into three parts:

  • Country code: Indicates the country or broad region where the phone number is located (e.g., +1 for the United States)—if you’re within the United States calling or texting another number within the United States, the country code is not needed
  • Area code: Identifies a specific geographic region or service provider within a country
  • Subscriber number: The unique identifier assigned to a particular telephone line or device

How Phone Numbers Work

Here’s how phone numbers work…

  1. When you dial a phone number or send a text message, your device sends a signal to a telecommunications network.
  2. The network interprets the dialed digits as a numerical address and routes the call to the right destination.
  3. The recipient's network and device are identified based on the number and a connection is established.
  4. Once a connection is established, your text message is delivered, or voice signals are transmitted between the two devices, enabling real-time communication.

Different Types of Phone Numbers

Different Types of Phone Numbers” with each of the subheadings below (and including the bolded text under the Virtual Phone Numbers subheading, showing phone icons

There are several different types of phone numbers you may want to be aware of, that serve different purposes.

Landline Phone Numbers

Landline phone numbers are linked to a specific address, allowing callers to reach individuals or businesses at their designated premises. Landline numbers used to be the staple for phone numbers but are fading out of popularity.

Mobile Phone Numbers

Mobile phone numbers are connected to particular cell devices rather than to specific locations and use signals from cell phone towers to function, rather than relying on landline phone connections.

Virtual Phone Numbers

Virtual phone numbers are set up and managed via the internet and are not typically affiliated with a particular device or location. With virtual phone numbers, calls and texts are managed via an online portal or are forwarded to a landline or cell phone.

In the United States, virtual phone numbers come in a few different variations:

  • Local Phone Numbers: These look like “normal” phone numbers with area codes affiliated with particular geographical locations.
  • Toll-Free Phone Numbers: These look like “normal” phone numbers but have an “area code” beginning with 8 (such as 800, 855, or 888).
  • Short Codes: These are shorter phone numbers (less than 10 digits) that are only used for texting, often for texting large numbers of people at once.

How to Use Virtual Phone Numbers

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Here’s how to get started with a virtual phone number…

1. Choose a Virtual Phone Number Provider

You’ll first need to choose a provider that offers virtual phone numbers.

With Mobile Text Alerts, you get a virtual local or toll-free phone number included with any plan, so you can send texts from a different number other than your own cell phone or landline.

2. Create an Account and Select a Plan

After you’ve determined what virtual phone number provider to try, the next step is to create an account and select a plan with that provider. (If the service offers a free trial, you could try that first to get a feel for how services work.)

As mentioned, Mobile Text Alerts includes a free virtual number with any plan and is geared toward using virtual phone numbers for texting (including mass texting and individual texting).

3. Decide What Type of Virtual Phone Number You’d Like

You’ll need to decide which type of virtual phone number you’d like to use. Local and toll-free phone numbers are low-cost and both have their own benefits and pitfalls.

Short codes are the best phone numbers to use for texting but are quite a bit costlier.

(You can see a complete comparison of the different types of phone numbers here.)

Alternatively, you can port over an existing phone number to make it a virtual number.

4. Start Using Your Virtual Phone Number

Depending on your purpose for your virtual phone number, you may need to configure the virtual phone number so that you can start using it.

This may involve setting up an auto-response text message if someone sends a text to the number, for example.

Otherwise you’re OK to start using your virtual phone number. With Mobile Text Alerts, you can send text messages anytime from your virtual phone number via an online portal or mobile app. If anyone sends a text message to your virtual number, you’re able to view and respond to their message from that same portal/app as well.

How to Search for Phone Numbers / Lookup Phone Numbers

While we’re on the topic of phone numbers, you may be wondering how to search for or lookup a phone number.

For example, you may have received a call from an unknown number and would like more information about who was trying to call you. Or you may want to know the mobile carrier of a phone number you’re trying to message for one reason or another. Or you may be trying to find the phone number for a particular business you’re trying to contact.

The main way to search for phone numbers and lookup phone numbers is through online databases, such as Whitepages. Carrier lookup tools such as FreeCarrierLookup can be useful as well.

Otherwise, you can do a simple Google search. You can plug in the phone number you’re curious about or the name of the company/organization you’re trying to reach and the words “phone number. Then see what kind of information you’re able to pull up.

Get a Virtual Phone Number Now

Interested in getting started with a virtual phone number for your own business? Get a Mobile Text Alerts free trial account now.

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