A local call is one that is placed and received within the same zip code—or technically within the same switching center. Below, we’ll break down what a local call is, how it differs from a long distance call, and why local calls are now irrelevant.

An Example of a Local Call

A common example of a local call is whenever an individual dials the phone number of a local business close to their home to get information about the store’s hours of operation. Since the caller is located within the same zip code as their call’s final destination, it only passes through a single switch center (and is therefore deemed a local call). 

If you’re calling a friend in the same city, even if you’re in the suburbs and they live downtown, that’d be a local call. Same for businesses—if you’re working in the office and need to call your local paper supplier in the same city, it’d count as a local call.

This doesn’t just apply to landlines. If you use your cell phone to order pizza at a nearby restaurant in your city, that also counts as a local call. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a cell phone calling a nearby landline or another person’s cell phone—as long as they’re in the same zip code, it’s all considered to be local.

It’s all pretty straightforward. VoIP phone services even work the same way. If you’re using a VoIP service like Nextiva or RingCentral to call a local landline or cell phone number, it’s also considered to be a local call.

An Example of a Long Distance Call

By contrast, a long-distance call is any call made outside of a defined local area. A simple example of a long-distance call would be a caller in New York City ringing up a friend in Los Angeles—like what Alexander Graham Bell was doing when he made the first-ever transcontinental call to Thomas A. Watson in 1915. 

Anyway, as both the caller and the recipient of a long-distance call occupy different zip codes, a call between them has to go through multiple switching centers to reach its destination, thus distinguishing it from a local call. 

With long-distance calls, you have two major types: domestic long distance-calls and international long-distance calls. The example above is a domestic, or national, long-distance call.

If that same person in New York City was calling a friend in Berlin, Germany, it’d be an international long-distance call. The big thing here is remembering to dial the country’s exit code before dialing the other country’s designated code, followed by the actual phone number.

Why Local Calls are Now Irrelevant

These days, local calls are largely considered obsolete, mainly because of VoIP technology providers (which make phone calls possible over the internet) and the widespread adoption of mobile phones. 

Due to the fact that most people who use cell phones no longer have landlines, the majority of the calls they place are not restricted to hardwire connections. As a result, a call can easily go anywhere within a carrier’s network, which is typically the user’s entire country. 

That said, the only real limitation that exists is international calling. In this case, a single carrier like AT&T or Verizon is unable to complete the full route of an international call on its own. Instead, the call would have to be routed to another carrier in the destination country of the call. For example, an individual in the United States using Verizon to call a company in the United Kingdom would need to be routed through a different carrier to reach the destination successfully. 

Screenshot of WhatsApp stay connected webpage

Apps like WhatsApp and Zoom are good alternatives if you’re looking for cheap and easy international long-distance calling options. With WhatsApp, you can make a voice call, send a text message, or get on a video call with another person using the app for free as long as you’re using Wi-Fi. If you’re using data, you’ll be charged based on your phone’s data plan.

Zoom also makes it easy to talk to friends and colleagues across long distances. The free plan usually suffices for basic video calls, but you’ll probably want to upgrade to a higher-tier plan if you’re using it for business calls. And again, if you’re using data and not Wi-Fi to access Zoom, you’ll have to factor in that cost.

The History of Local Calls

In years past, landlines were the primary and/or only method of placing calls. As a result, virtually all phone lines were interconnected through a plain old telephone system (POTS), which is the analog voice transmission system that uses physical wires to function. 

In this traditional system, which emerged in the late 19th century and eventually replaced telegrams as the primary means of communication, telephones required a direct connection through copper lines. In order to connect with another line, an individual would make a call that went through the switching center of their carrier’s landline service. Due to the physical constraints and scaling limitations of this wire-based system, the call switch would have to take place in the caller’s local area. In other words, local calls were handled within the same switching center of a given zip code. 

Long-distance calls, on the other hand, were calls that had to be routed to another switch before reaching the call recipient. This process took additional time and money, so phone carriers often offered free local calls but charged by the minute for long-distance calls as a way to make money. 

However, the introduction of mobile phones in 1973 by Motorola and the explosive growth of cell phones and digital communications starting in the 1990s led to the radio frequency-based phone system that’s widely used around the world today—leading to the decline of landlines and local calling along with it. 

Understand the Changing Nature of Phone Calls

The underlying technology of phone calls has made a few rapid changes over the course of the last century. These changes have been accompanied by new devices and new calling habits of everyday consumers and businesses alike. By having a better grasp of these changes, you’ll be able to take advantage of new calling technologies as they pop up. 

The big thing is knowing you’re not limited to just your phone carrier’s capabilities, especially when it comes to long-distance calls. There really isn’t a good reason to pay a ton of money to make an international call when VoIP business phone systems and commonly used apps like WhatsApp exist.