COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is adding a new area code.
The latest set of digits will augment the Palmetto State's oldest area code — 803. In the region stretching from Aiken to Rock Hill with Columbia at its center, new numbers beginning with 839 will be available in the Midlands starting May 26, 2020.
The Post and Courier reports historically, the 803 area code was the only one in the state after World War II ended. In 1995, 864 came to the Upstate. The coastal 843 area code was created in the late 1990s.
Ahead of the new number's availability, millions of landline callers are asked to practice dialing the area code before every local number. Calls dialed without area codes will stop going through April 25, 2020.
The advent of cellphones and years of heavy population growth have contributed to the need for a new area code in the Midlands.
As of December 2017, there were 4.75 million mobile numbers in service statewide and 1.6 million wired lines, said Doug Pratt, public utility analyst with the South Carolina Public Service Commission.
Population in the state recently topped 5 million, according to the latest Census data.
"The thing that determines when you have to split, or overlay, an area code is when you run out of central office codes," the first three digits following the area code, Pratt said.
Regulators considered merging the 854 area with the Midlands but ultimately decided adding 839 numbers to serve central South Carolina would last longer and cause less confusion.
When the last new area code was introduced, there was a rush to snag tens of thousands of prime, easy-to-remember phone prefixes.
But for the most part, Pratt said the new numbers are given out when a customer's needs are too big to be accommodated under the previous area code — usually new large employers and hospitals with direct dialing systems that want a common number.
The Public Service Commission approved the plan to add the new area code in July 2018.
Despite population gains in the Upstate, it is the only new area code currently planned, Pratt said.
Through mid-2018, the Spartanburg metropolitan area was the 19th fastest-growing in the nation. And Greenville County's population growth rate was higher than the state's as a whole, according to the latest Census figures.
"The 864 area code will not exhaust for quite some time," Pratt said, some 10 to 15 years into the future.