Wide Area Telephone Service

In U.S. telecommunications, a Wide Area Telephone Service (WATS) is a long distance service offering for customer dial-type telecommunications between a given customer station and stations within specified geographic rate areas employing a single telephone line between the customer user location and the serving central office. Each access line may be arranged for either outward (OUT-WATS) or inward (IN-WATS) service, or both.

Offerings for fixed-rate inter-LATA and intra-LATA services are measured by zones and hours. In Outbound WATS the country is defined by Bands 0 through 5. Band zero is intrastate calling and bands 1 through 5 are interstate calls that are progressively further from the originating number. Historically the higher band number carries a higher price per month or per minute. These lines can be used for outbound long distance only; not local. With long distance rates at historic lows, using regular business lines, OUTWATS service became obsolete late in the 20th century.

With "inward WATS", subscribers are issued a toll-free telephone number, typically beginning with a designated toll-free area code. INWATS service was introduced by AT&T in 1967 to reduce time spent by operators processing toll-collect calls for businesses. The first inward WATS area code issued was 800, with 888, 877, and 866 area codes being planned and implemented in the 1990s, The 855 code was implemented in late 2010, and 844, 833 and 822 reserved for future expansion. Telephone users within a designated area may call an inward WATS telephone number without having to pay a toll charge—the recipient pays for the calls at a flat rate or other predetermined rate. Growth of inward WATS exploded in the 1980s as technology allowed companies to build business with nationwide toll-free 800 numbers which could ring at multiple call centers. They are commonly used with vanity numbers.

"Inward WATS" service is available with Automatic Number Identification (ANI), which could be described as an older and more sophisticated form of Caller ID.

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