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Jonathan Jensen – What’s your number

Mobile enthusiast Jonathan Jensen has a radical suggestion to empower the customers of fixed and mobile phone operators.

Phone numbers – yours or theirs?

There’s an issue that’s been in the back of my mind for a while and it was brought to the fore recently when a friend lost her phone number because of a process failure in her operator.

Although no longer the only method of immediate communication, phone numbers still play a critical role in our communications lives. Many of us like to keep the same mobile or landline number for as long as possible to avoid losing contact with friends and having to ask people to change the numbers they hold for us (which they frequently forget to do!). Number portability has helped this process and reduced the number of times we have to change numbers but it is still in the hands of the operators and to some extent reliant on their goodwill – for example if you’re in dispute with your provider they won’t release your number. We don’t ‘own’ our numbers. Why not?

The Internet allows us to buy our own domain names which we can move from ISP to ISP. It empowers us & allows us to easily switch providers to save money or improve service. Phone numbers should be the same. A central body should sell phone numbers to individuals and companies which become the property of that individual or organisation and can be moved between communications providers. There would need to be rules around the use of numbers to stay within the national numbering scheme but these could be simple and clear. Number allocation and management would be via a central database, perhaps similar to that proposed in the UK for managing mobile number portability in the future. Customers would be empowered in the same way they are on the Internet. The link between number and contract would be broken; you could switch numbers around at will via an online interface. It’s similar to personal numbers but better because it doesn’t add yet another number which is more expensive to own or call and of course personal numbers don’t belong to us. Customers would have greater freedom to move their numbers because it would be in their control and communications providers would have a stronger incentive to keep customers because customers could divert their traffic at the click of a mouse.

There are clearly a number of technical obstacles but it’s my challenge to the regulators – are you listening?

Jonathan’s also at Sevendotzero.

6 COMMENTS

  1. A few years ago, while I still lived in Britain, I signed up to a service tht gave me a 'portable' number. The idea was I could hand out this number to everone to call, but when they dialled, it put them through to me wherever I was, or at whatever landline/mobile number I designated.

    At the time the mobile industry was a little hectic, so people were swapping numbers regularly .. I think thi was just before cell phne numbers became easily portable. I moved house a couple of times around then too, and all I had to do when my number changed was go edit my designated number on the service web site.

    I'm not telling you this because I think the service was particularly good, or because I miss it. I think it was necessary at the time, but these days it i less so. If nothing else, people can always get me on my personal email addres, so I really don't care if they have an up to date phone number for me. But I like the idea of an emal address and/or phone number that we can carry with us for life. Sure there's reasons why some of us find we want or need to change contact details, but most people are lucky enough not to need to do that 🙂

  2. This is precisely why I'm not a huge fan of phone numbers to begin with. It's just another way to contact me. Currently, including IM, email, phone numbers, and social networks, there are likely 30+ different ways you could contact me. This is wasteful, but worse is that when you want to contact me, YOU have to choose between these different methods. It's terrible.

    What we need more is a system that aggregates the different ways you can contact a person, so that if you wanted to talk to me, you wouldn't have to choose between email, IM, or a phone call. You would simple tell your device (be it computer, home phone, cellphone, etc) that you needed to talk to me, and bam.

  3. The premise behind this isn't actually sound. Phone numbers and domain names are what's known as a controlled namespace; in other words
    they are controlled by centralised and delegated authorities. So for phone numbers they are actually assigned by the ITU (?)
    at a country level and then local telco's receive delegated authority to assign the numbers therein.

    Domain names are EXACTLY the same. The top level domains are controlled, as are the region specific ones.

    In both cases you actually LEASE the number or domain from the delegated authority and therefore as with any controlled namespace there is
    little or no possibility or probability of ever actually “owning' the number. This “centralised” control is what ensures uniqueness.

    /* Gets a little geeky beyond here so bail out now if you want */

    The true problem with telephone numbers is not is the ownership rather the fact that traditionally the number has been tied to the service
    provider directly. So if you obtained a telephone number from one Telco, as it had delegated authority for that chunk of numbers you couldn't
    move it to another Telco. This was in part I suspect because telephone numbers are regionalised such that the average human is capable of
    remembering the numbers.

    Number portability seeks to resolve the changing of service providers, however is only possible within geographical boundaries say the same
    exchange – remember the heritage of circuit switching here.

    What is more useful in the modern and connected world is actually a controlled namespace that is NOT geographically constrained. One where
    you can be assigned an non-reassignable number (one that never changes and is always yours) which you can attach to whatever service you
    desire. Now IPv6 gives us a namespac big enough to handle this scenario but have you ever tried to remember an IPv6 number? Most people
    couldn't. This is where an abstracted identifier technology comes into play.

    With an abstracted identifier, such as iNames (based on the XRI standard from Oasis) you are able to create and link a human readable
    identifier (mine's =barney.craggs) to an underlying non-reassignable iNumber (directly mappable to an IPv6 address). This has a number of very
    cool advantages not least being the ability to have a single number if desired but also the ability to assign different iNames to the same
    iNumber for different purposes. So for example I could give business one iName and my friends a different iName both of which can resolve to the
    same iNumber (if I want) or be routed to multiple destinations.

    The possibilities are immense and I have over-simplified the technology for this comment, but in essence;
    – controlled namespaces are good as long as you acknowledge their limitations,
    – geographically constrained identifiers are limiting especially when the geography is actually directly tied to a service provider,
    – the use of combined re-assignable and non-assignable identifiers opens up a world of possibilities and a powerful driver for consumer
    choice.

  4. The premise behind this isn't actually sound. Phone numbers and domain names are what's known as a controlled namespace; in other words
    they are controlled by centralised and delegated authorities. So for phone numbers they are actually assigned by the ITU (?)
    at a country level and then local telco's receive delegated authority to assign the numbers therein.

    Domain names are EXACTLY the same. The top level domains are controlled, as are the region specific ones.

    In both cases you actually LEASE the number or domain from the delegated authority and therefore as with any controlled namespace there is
    little or no possibility or probability of ever actually “owning' the number. This “centralised” control is what ensures uniqueness.

    /* Gets a little geeky beyond here so bail out now if you want */

    The true problem with telephone numbers is not is the ownership rather the fact that traditionally the number has been tied to the service
    provider directly. So if you obtained a telephone number from one Telco, as it had delegated authority for that chunk of numbers you couldn't
    move it to another Telco. This was in part I suspect because telephone numbers are regionalised such that the average human is capable of
    remembering the numbers.

    Number portability seeks to resolve the changing of service providers, however is only possible within geographical boundaries say the same
    exchange – remember the heritage of circuit switching here.

    What is more useful in the modern and connected world is actually a controlled namespace that is NOT geographically constrained. One where
    you can be assigned an non-reassignable number (one that never changes and is always yours) which you can attach to whatever service you
    desire. Now IPv6 gives us a namespac big enough to handle this scenario but have you ever tried to remember an IPv6 number? Most people
    couldn't. This is where an abstracted identifier technology comes into play.

    With an abstracted identifier, such as iNames (based on the XRI standard from Oasis) you are able to create and link a human readable
    identifier (mine's =barney.craggs) to an underlying non-reassignable iNumber (directly mappable to an IPv6 address). This has a number of very
    cool advantages not least being the ability to have a single number if desired but also the ability to assign different iNames to the same
    iNumber for different purposes. So for example I could give business one iName and my friends a different iName both of which can resolve to the
    same iNumber (if I want) or be routed to multiple destinations.

    The possibilities are immense and I have over-simplified the technology for this comment, but in essence;
    – controlled namespaces are good as long as you acknowledge their limitations,
    – geographically constrained identifiers are limiting especially when the geography is actually directly tied to a service provider,
    – the use of combined re-assignable and non-assignable identifiers opens up a world of possibilities and a powerful driver for consumer
    choice.

  5. The premise behind this isn't actually sound. Phone numbers and domain names are what's known as a controlled namespace; in other words
    they are controlled by centralised and delegated authorities. So for phone numbers they are actually assigned by the ITU (?)
    at a country level and then local telco's receive delegated authority to assign the numbers therein.

    Domain names are EXACTLY the same. The top level domains are controlled, as are the region specific ones.

    In both cases you actually LEASE the number or domain from the delegated authority and therefore as with any controlled namespace there is
    little or no possibility or probability of ever actually “owning' the number. This “centralised” control is what ensures uniqueness.

    /* Gets a little geeky beyond here so bail out now if you want */

    The true problem with telephone numbers is not is the ownership rather the fact that traditionally the number has been tied to the service
    provider directly. So if you obtained a telephone number from one Telco, as it had delegated authority for that chunk of numbers you couldn't
    move it to another Telco. This was in part I suspect because telephone numbers are regionalised such that the average human is capable of
    remembering the numbers.

    Number portability seeks to resolve the changing of service providers, however is only possible within geographical boundaries say the same
    exchange – remember the heritage of circuit switching here.

    What is more useful in the modern and connected world is actually a controlled namespace that is NOT geographically constrained. One where
    you can be assigned an non-reassignable number (one that never changes and is always yours) which you can attach to whatever service you
    desire. Now IPv6 gives us a namespac big enough to handle this scenario but have you ever tried to remember an IPv6 number? Most people
    couldn't. This is where an abstracted identifier technology comes into play.

    With an abstracted identifier, such as iNames (based on the XRI standard from Oasis) you are able to create and link a human readable
    identifier (mine's =barney.craggs) to an underlying non-reassignable iNumber (directly mappable to an IPv6 address). This has a number of very
    cool advantages not least being the ability to have a single number if desired but also the ability to assign different iNames to the same
    iNumber for different purposes. So for example I could give business one iName and my friends a different iName both of which can resolve to the
    same iNumber (if I want) or be routed to multiple destinations.

    The possibilities are immense and I have over-simplified the technology for this comment, but in essence;
    – controlled namespaces are good as long as you acknowledge their limitations,
    – geographically constrained identifiers are limiting especially when the geography is actually directly tied to a service provider,
    – the use of combined re-assignable and non-assignable identifiers opens up a world of possibilities and a powerful driver for consumer
    choice.

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