Operator Innovation: One number for all my voice calls

It’s time once again for the Operator Innovation post. I’m delighted to report that the series has been gaining substantial attention from a host of senior mobile industry executives.

To these executives, let me say this:

1. I love you all. In a proper manly way. Without your continued efforts and those of the industry, I recognise Mobile Industry Review would be pointless. And I wouldn’t be able to get off a plane in the Maldives and still be able to send and receive email.

2. I know a lot of you are actually innovating. I have received quite a lot of email from executives pointing out that there is *some* innovation going on at their respective operators. I do try and highlight this routinely here on MIR, but if you feel I’ve missed something, then please email me.

3. Thank you everyone for your emails on the subject. If there’s an area you think we should explore with this series, drop me a note and let me know.

4. Yes, it’s possible to hire me and my cohort of innovation brain surgeons. Drop me an email, tell me what’s challenging you, and I’ll mail back with some ideas about how we might engage.

As always I’m

Last week’s “sell me a MacBook Air” post generated a ton of comments and mail. I think this week’s one will get a lot less response. I’m afraid I’m looking at an exceedingly boring issue this week.

But I think I’m right to say it’s something you, dear reader, would like fixed tomorrow.

I have more than one phone.

So do you. Yes? I think the last MIR survey revealed most of the readers had at least 3 devices.

The chances are you have a work mobile, a personal mobile — and since the audience are rather geeky, you probably have at least 2 or 3 personal phones.

Let me set the scene to lead up to the problem statement. I have a BlackBerry Bold 9780, soon to be replaced with the gorgeous 9900.

I also have an iPhone 4 running on 3UK.

I routinely carry a BlackBerry Curve too — this is required for some daily consultancy that I provide.

I also have an iPhone 4 running on Orange. I use this one as a secondary iPhone, for testing things, for media playback and sometimes as a back-up iPhone.

The Nexus S is my Android device du jour. This is the one I use to check-out Android gubbins. It usually runs on one of my Vodafone contract SIMs. I also have a top-of-the-range HTC Windows Phone running on my o2 sim.

This, then, is me.

I rarely begin a ‘work day’ without carrying at least 3 phones. My absolute minimum is my Bold and the iPhone. Despite what Apple and RIM wish, I really do quite enjoy the separation and I find that each device has it’s plus points. I can get through a ton of email (and do a lot of messaging) on the Bold. The apps and the media management on the iPhone are fantastic.

I don’t always like to carry both phones. Or all three.

Indeed, sometimes I like to walk out with just the main iPhone in my pocket.

Other times, I feel in the mood for the Nexus.

Sometimes if I’m popping out to the shops, I’ll just slip the Bold into my jacket.

That’s the background.

Now the problem statement: Which phone do you call?

Each of them has a different number.

This is a total arse for me.

I have each handset directing to HulloMail for voicemail. So if you call me on one of the phones, the chances are I’ll get your voicemail notification irrespective of what device I’m carrying.

The real issue for me is: Which phone does my wife call?

We’ve got a little baby. Well, a toddler. And I am a parent. I need to be responsible. I need to be contactable.

So when I leave the house to pop to the shops, I have been finding myself automatically saying, “I”m on the iPhone” or, “I’m on the Nexus”.

This makes me feel better. But then it winds up my wife because she usually doesn’t bother to remember what I’ve said. She’ll phone my main number — running on the BlackBerry — and if she’s lucky, she’ll get through.

If I took the Nexus S, I’ll never get her call.

Managing incoming calls when you have multiple devices is really annoying.

It gets even worse when you try and place a call. If I’m calling from my Nexus S, most people don’t pick up. The call goes straight to voicemail as they don’t recognise the number and — mostly — my friends don’t have time to take calls from numbers they don’t recognise.

Some of my friends sensibly save my number as Ewan2 or EwanNexus or something like that.

I am then driven to distraction my frustrated friends calling Ewan2 or EwanMain or EwanNexus and not being able to get through to me.

“I didn’t know which one to phone,” is the complaint that winds me up chronically.

It winds me up because I haven’t dealt with it.

And further, it annoys me because the mobile operators are generally oblivious to this issue.

Oh, I could have every phone automatically divert to a single number. I could spend 5 minutes configuring my ‘live’ device every time I leave the house. That would be the sensible option.

Indeed, what I should probably do is give all my fiends a fake mobile number that diverts to whatever phone I’m currently using. I’ve tried this. It does sort-of-work. Except, the whole thing falls apart when you try calling people because they don’t have your number.

The solution is ultra simple. Mobile operators can easily implement a system that identifies your current live device (I wouldn’t mind clicking a button or an option to set this manually) and then route all calls to that number. It would also be possible for the operator to route your outgoing calls through a particular defined identifier.

Of course when I’m using multiple operators to power multiple phones, that complicates matters. I would be prepared to restrict my communications to one operator, if they could offer me some kind of phone number fidelity service.

Give me one number, but make it work on multiple SIMs?

So when I make a call, my friends see my main number calling?

And make every device I use ring — and when I pick-up on my iPhone, stop ringing the other ones?

This is eminently possible.

It’s just not implemented.

It would be a great way of ensuring fundamental loyalty.

The good news is that this last bastion of operator control is begin eroded slowly.

Google Voice, for example, is slowly approaching a total fix for this. I was rather impressed to see Sprint integrating with that (more information). The Sprint/Google Voice solution is almost there.

I’m highly disappointed that the operators haven’t recognised the value of enabling some kind of ‘one number for voice calls’ functionality. Give me five sim cards, all responding to the same number — and all sharing the same minutes/texts/data bundles. That would be amazing.

[By the way, last week using the Huddle function on Google+’s iPhone/Android platforms, I was able to abstract the operator completely out of my communications. Instead of functioning as a primary route to me through their mobile number, I just used the operator as the bit-pipe. Google was my identifier and my comms platform. I was able to successfully communicate with my peers across a full day using Huddle. Sometimes I used my iPhone. Sometimes I used the Nexus S. Sometimes an iPad or laptop. Interesting times.]

What do you think? Would you like to see this feature offered by operators? Or do you think it’s far too specialist a need?

– – – – –

Check out the other posts in the Operator Innovation series:

Fancy a MacBook Air, iPhone, iPad for £100/month?
Why can’t my operator talk to my bank when my card declines abroad
Taxis, baby, Taxis!

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

24 replies on “Operator Innovation: One number for all my voice calls”

I suspect you’re in the minority on this one! 🙂  Not that I don’t think it would be cool, but given everything else on the operator’s plates, I can’t imagine it’s high on their priorities. 

No idea if stats exist for this, but I don’t know anyone with more than 2 voice devices (As you tend not to be called on iPads, data dongles etc. I’m only counting “proper” phones).  At my work, a lot of people think I’m odd for maintaining a personal/work separation, they use the same for both. 

My gut feel is this only affects < 0.1% or so of mobile users, probably far fewer.  I can't see any operator doing much about it soon, and frankly I'd rather there's a lot I'd rather they improved ahead of this myself.  Sorry…

Now, abstracting away phone/SIM identity and moving entirely to IP/online based comms?  That is exciting stuff & much more where I think we'll end up going.  Question is, can any of the operators find a way to innovate in that space which doesn't just get in our way?

Aye you’re right I did stray into the identity and status segment with this one.

I do think there are more than <0.1% with multiple *phone* devices — I like using different form factors for different days/weeks/occasions. For example, I don't really want to carry a hunking big iPhone to the beach when all I need is basic connectivity.

I wonder if operators can actually add much value here. Glennee on Twitter points out that he reckons in a few years time, operators will just focus on delivering data services, leaving the higher level identity management/status/session stuff to the likes of Google.

This is where Skype, Viber or Bababoo could eat the operators’ lunch… the moment 4G data arrives reliably enough to run ‘over the top’ voice these apps which have looked like roaming or long-distance calling cost savers will be seen in a very different way.

What is distressing is who’s investing in them (as a measure of who believes in them)… and it’s not the operators.

Yes, yes and thrice yes. It’s something I’ve been saying for a while. I also think the handset manufacturers should be pushing for this too as I’m sure normobs would buy more handsets if this just worked – you know, a business phone for day, a “party” phone for the evening!

I don’t mind clicking a button to say this is now my live handset (sim), but on the same network why should it be any more complicated than that?

Actually I think I’ve changed my mind somewhat since my first comment; I can see the value in providing this service for the same number on the same network.  I would appreciate being able to switch to a cheaper handset when off surfing & leaving the phone in my car, for example.

But I’d only use that service if it was free.  Damned if I’d pay for the slightly easier alternative to just swapping my SIM to a different handset!  You obviously would be happy to pay for this – but again, I’m not sure how many others would. 

Would it make any difference if I was thinking of switching operator?  Maybe, if all other factors were equal, but in reality the handset+data+voice value-for-money would be the biggest differentiator.

Vodafone has its one net express solution which uses hunt groups, it will ring one number and then move on to the next. Also you could get all devices to ring at the same time (although does not work x-network) a good solution if you are on the same network with all SIMS.


“It’s just not implemented.” … in the UK.

Across Europe, multisim options are readily available, and only cost a few euros a month for the 2nd (or more) SIMs, which then share the number and the minutes / data bundle too. It may be limited to a single network, but it’s a lot better than the scenario you outline. They are commonly used for people where the car has a SIM slot (although I note most car manufacturers have moved to Bluetooth instead nowadays).

Vodafone UK had (may even still have) a multiSIM option, but it wasn’t compatible with 3G, so you were limited to GPRS (it was more than a few euros a month too!). I think at least one other UK network supported it for a while, but limited it to Business contracts, so I never looked further, as my multiple usage would have been over personal phone contracts.

A quick check confirms the Vodafone website has an FAQ labelled “What *was* MultiSIM” so I guess it’s no longer available.


I’ve actually got a separate sodding sim for the car phone. So they did offer this but obviously must have withdrawn it a while ago?

One Net Express seems to combine a single landline number with a single mobile number, allowing you to choice which number is used for outgoing calls, and then supports a hunt group for reaching other phones within the business, but I couldn’t spot anything that would set a common outgoing number across those multiple devices (there’s a Company Main Number function, but that seems limited to incoming calls only).

It’s also not cheap (for this one usage; for the full range of features it offers, it may actually be good value for a small business to use instead of having any landlines / PBX system at all).

Its not the fact of a common number, but someone could call any one of your numbers be it land line/mobile and you could have all devices ring at the same time. The solution is business only at the moment but i think this would be great in the consumer world.

Although I agree; Ewan’s other key criteria was that people could recognise him from a single outgoing number; if there were an option to use the Company Main Number function as the CLI then it would seem to meet his needs exactly

Yeah, it’s a different value proposition isn’t it? I can see that the small business will really like that function. It just goes to show that Vodafone are *sort of* near the idea…

Interesting to see the similarity in what you carry in you jacket pockets and what weighs down mine…

My immediate line up is as follows:

 – iPhone 4 (on Three)
 – Samsung Vibrant (US spec Galaxy S – with extra AWS 3G band) (on Tru)
 – Samsung Nexus S (strangely on T-Mobile – but only as Orange is the only outside signal that getis into my house and I do not like Orange pricing)
 – Blackberry Torch2 [9860 / OS7] (on Tru BB service)
 – Samsung Galaxy Tab (on GiffGaff)
 – Huawei E585 MiFi (on Three)

In my bag I routinely carry my 2nd line devices – today totalling some 14 devices with SIM cards.  In additon to this I have about my person just under 100 SIM cards of different types and forms.

Can any other readers trump that?

We’re working on the operators, but it takes a very long time to change the thinking of people still clinging on milking sms and roaming charges. In the end, it’ll happen. There’s no other way. Abstraction is necessary.

We’re working on the operators, but it takes a very long time to change the thinking of people still clinging on milking sms and roaming charges. In the end, it’ll happen. There’s no other way. Abstraction is necessary.

Disqus generic email template Well I hope they finally see the light!
*From*: Disqus [mailto:]
*Sent*: Friday, August 05, 2011 02:44 PM
*To*: *Subject*: [smstextnews] Re: Operator Innovation: One number for all my voice calls

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Rikkles (unregistered) wrote, in response to Ewan:
We’re working on the operators, but it takes a very long time to change the thinking of people still clinging on milking sms and roaming charges. In the end, it’ll happen. There’s no other way. Abstraction is necessary.

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Disqus generic email template Well I hope they finally see the light!
*From*: Disqus [mailto:]
*Sent*: Friday, August 05, 2011 02:44 PM
*To*: *Subject*: [smstextnews] Re: Operator Innovation: One number for all my voice calls

[image: DISQUS]

NOTE: This comment is waiting for your approval. It is not yet published on your site.

Rikkles (unregistered) wrote, in response to Ewan:
We’re working on the operators, but it takes a very long time to change the thinking of people still clinging on milking sms and roaming charges. In the end, it’ll happen. There’s no other way. Abstraction is necessary.

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