The phone number is dead


Here at the VON conference, there's lots of talk about numbering. While SIP had a dream of calling people using an E-mail address, the market has delivered devices with numeric keypads only, particularly in the mobile space. So nobody uses SIP URLs or domain names of any kind, and everybody worries about mapping to and from numbers. (Another thing Skype mostly ignored.) The regulators try to regulate VoIP by claiming they have the power when it makes calls to and from the legacy PSTN with its numbers.

But here's something I learned putting out my free phone at Burning Man. Most of the people said, "I don't know any of my friends' numbers!" They did not have their cell phones or PDAs on them. The new generation of phone users is treating numbers as a one-time thing, to enter into the speed dial and forget. They know their own number, and perhaps a few other people, as well as their parents.

However, they do know how to TXT on a numeric keypad. So it makes me wonder, at least for the new generation, if the fuss about numbers is worth anything. What if we did switch back to names or SIP URLs (with short domains) and expected people to use various accelerated typing systems to enter numbers for the first time, and then have the phone remember after that.

One could easily create a service with an 800 number that let people dial it and then use digits to type in a SIP URL or e-mail address and connect to that person when not on their main phone. This is actually better, since even though it's longer to type, it's possible to remember it. On VOIP phones and Cell phones and smarter PSTN phones, people would switch to the names or speed dial. And the phone number would die the death it deserves.

More from VON later. VoIP is beyond heating up. As one speaker indicated, it's past the tipping point. Its dominance over the PSTN is now assured. The only question is when it flips. People say things like, "And when the PSTN dies" here and nobody blinks. Though the regulators, pushed by the legacy lobby, still say things that make me throw my hands up in disgust. I asked Senator Sununu today if Congress had ever looked back and said, "I wish we had protected the legacy systems more?" To be fair, he's one of the better members of congress on these issues.

Follow-up: Later at the conference, during the concert by Huey Lewis & the News, I thought it would be a nice romantic gesture to call home during his song "The Power of Love." I suggested that to a friend whose cell phone battery had died and said she could use my phone. "I don't know my boyfriend's number. I am not even sure of the area code," she said. Meanwhile others took cameraphone pictures of the performance and send them along with texted captions in similar romantic gestures. Mr. Lewis even took a cell phone from the audience and sang into it for whoever was on the other end.

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