||Rod Ullens, CEO, Voxbone
The Future of
Rod Ullens, CEO and co-founder of Voxbone, discusses
whether phone numbers will still play a role in the IP world
Rod Ullens is CEO and Co-Founder of Voxbone, market leader in worldwide geographical, toll-free and iNum® telephone numbers. Voxbone enables Internet communications services providers, wholesale carriers and mobile and fixed national operators to extend their network reach internationally, rapidly and with limited costs. Voxbone delivers high-quality inbound communications from more than 50 countries and more than 4,000 cities, using its own private global VoIP network – the world’s first and largest backbone dedicated to voice-origination services.
Before founding Voxbone, he provided advice, training and seminars to European carriers, such as Belgacom mobile, KPN, France Telecom and Orange, as well as several European governments.
He holds a B.S. in telecommunication engineering from the University of Louvain in Belgium.
The use of next generation communication networks has exploded over the last few years. Communicating via the Internet offers possibilities far beyond a traditional phone call. It encompasses presence and instant messaging, video and personal information sharing through social networks. Phone numbers are no longer the only identifier to reach people on a communications network. Now anyone can have a Skype ID, Gmail address and a facebook profile. In addition to this, fixed voice communications are migrating from legacy technology (TDM, SS7) to VoIP. So the question that comes up with these evolutions is will we still use telephone numbers in the future?
Phone numbers as we know them today have been around since the 1960s. At that time, their format was standardized by the ITU-T in what is referred to as the E.164 numbering plan. Since then they have not substantially changed, except with the advent of mobile telephony. Until then, phone numbers were associated to a physical address. With the introduction of mobile telephony, phone numbers became the identifier for a person.
Q: What benefits do they have?
A: First of all, phone numbers are unique across the entire world. As they are unique and standardized, they ensure interoperability across networks. They can be used by someone in Ukraine using a landline to call someone else on a mobile phone in Australia. That call could travel several networks operated by several operators, and will still reach its destination. It is also portable, in many countries; this means that a user can change providers without having to give up his identity. Lastly, they fulfil local policy objectives as they provide identity and location information to authorities for public safety purposes.
Q: Are there alternatives to phone numbers?
A: Yes, there are, but none of them are perfect. IP addresses in combination with domain names could be used. Or Skype ID’s. Or Gmail addresses. However both IP addresses and private identifiers have some limitations. Both of them are not portable across networks. Using them, you are stuck to your provider. None of them is interoperable with the PSTN network. And neither IP addresses, nor private identifiers provide governments with the means to support public safety.
Q: So, do phone numbers have a future?
A: Yes, they have. Phone numbers will still be around for a long time. With 6 billion end-points “the PSTN” is still the biggest social network of all. Given the benefits they have, why not use them in next generation communication networks and social media. By doing so, these networks could provide support for emergency calls, for example or could provide a unique identity, portable across networks. Or they would allow calling or chatting across networks, from Skype to Google for example. Furthermore, the phone number is chosen as the identifier for calls on IPX (IP eXchange), the upcoming interconnection model of the GSMA for the exchange of IP based traffic between all types of service providers. Today and also in the years to come, telephone numbers form the bridge between PSTN and IP telephony. Some of these networks have already taken a step in that direction. Skype, for example, has added an optional phone number to its accounts for the use of the “Online number” service.
Q: Can they stay as they are, or should they evolve to be
A: Definitely changes are needed. In a lot of countries, having a physical local address is required for obtaining a geographical phone number. With the mobility provided by mobile technology, internet and VoIP, this requirement should disappear. We do support the association of a phone number with a certain region through the area code. For example, an online shop in Paris should be able to get a local phone number in Berlin if Germany would be a market for the shop. As such the shop could make clear to potential German customer that they also provide services in Germany.
Secondly, the link between area-codes of phone numbers and costs of a call should disappear. With the advent of IP technology, the marginal cost of transport of a voice call is close to zero. Why still charge extra for inter-area calls? Processes for porting of existing numbers and number ranges are still to be improved. Not every country has a central number database and automated porting systems, a pre-requisite for healthy competition.
Lastly, the frameworks of the telephone number system do not support today’s communication services, such as video and instant messaging. Market definitions have to be enlarged to also include and standardize these services so they can become interoperable across networks.
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