The use of the humble phone number is changing. It is the building block of new growth industries as we see the movement of phone numbers away from the physical network and into the cloud.
Years ago, the advent of mobile phones presented a new conundrum, where the prefix would no longer tell the network where the user is located. To solve this problem, new techniques such as lookup-based routing were developed, with equipment such as “intelligent networks” and “location registers” being developed.
Skype also started providing a range of services to bridge the real and virtual world, providing phone numbers for your non-cloud contacts so they can reach you via the cloud. Merge Skype and Microsoft and you increase the app eco-system, the world of phone numbers and usernames blurring even further - all with no infrastructure.
Despite this, when social networks like Facebook want to reach any user in the world, they default to phone numbers. Why? Because phone numbers are the link between cloud-based apps and the legacy world of the PSTN. Even next-generation applications like WhatsApp use a phone number, as they are both versatile and a global unique identifier.
From the physical network onto the virtual network
Phone numbers are being disassociated from physical networks and slowly moving onto virtual networks. Today, you can already port your real-world PSTN number to the cloud, accessing and controlling that number via an app. In the future, service providers will deliver voice over the top of ubiquitous access networks and customer value will be delivered direct from the cloud to the user.
DIDs enable fast expansion into new markets or prestigious business locations at a lower cost than establishing a physical presence. Organisational efficiency can be increased by routing calls made to DIDs to (overseas) locations which have the knowledge or technology to answer those calls.
A hosted PABX is a great example of this. Hosting services purchase the numbers which may be located in a dial code outside the region of the actual user. If a customer needs, say, 50 numbers all SIP trunked to a destination, then calls are SIP trunked from the PSTN to the hosting service, and then onto the phones themselves. The local user is not associated with the local number at all.
Local geo numbers can make a business appear local when it is not. A range of businesses need these numbers, as the calls are more likely to be answered and thus more likely to be called back if they look local to the end-user. One big advantage of this approach is that a caller does not incur the cost associated with the call being answered in another country.
How are virtual numbers being used?
Avoiding the need to share personal information, such as private phone numbers, is critical for some business models. Uber and other ride share services use virtual numbers to create a separation between the driver and passenger. If a passenger clicks 'call' they are connected directly to the driver's phone number through a virtual number. This adds security for the passenger and driver, plus allows for the reporting of calls and communication. AirBNB and Airtasker also use a similar model to separate the customer and supplier.
Phone numbers are unique in that they provide any-to-any connectivity in real time. Increasingly the phone number is becoming part of the virtual realm. On one hand, we see the disassociation of phone numbers from physical networks and on the other, the emergence of a plethora of new uses as a virtual building block for innovation.
Find out how TNZI can help you access virtual numbers in Australia and New Zealand.