SHARE



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Sacha Nacar
Sacha is Voxbone's Developer Community Manager, helping the company's developer community build next-generation telecom applications. Over the past couple of...
Read Full Bio >>
SHARE



Sacha Nacar | November 23, 2015 |

 
   

Bringing the Phone Number to the Cloud

Bringing the Phone Number to the Cloud With some work, the phone number can be made more dynamic and more intelligent -- before it is finally eclipsed.

With some work, the phone number can be made more dynamic and more intelligent -- before it is finally eclipsed.

In my previous No Jitter article, "WebRTC and Contextual Identity on the Web," I examined the potential role that phone numbers can play as universal identifiers for next-generation online voice and video services (e.g., WebRTC-based solutions). Although many speculate that the phone number will become obsolete (along with the dial pad) within the next few years, it is still ubiquitous and strongly anchored in today's telecommunications systems. However, it needs to be adapted to the ever-changing online world.

Even with the emergence of email addresses, Skype IDs, and Facebook addresses, the E.164-formatted number designated in the international public telecommunication numbering plans is still the most interoperable and universal identifier we use to date. Most people have one, and it is often linked to a viable amount of information about the owner, including sensitive information like a home address, billing info, government or healthcare IDs. Moreover, unlike online identifiers, the phone number is portable. In many situations, this means users have the ability to keep their identities consistent when changing carriers.

Why Fix It If It Ain't Broke?
If the phone number is as universal as I claim, why even bother arguing about its relevance or its design?

The ways we communicate have radically changed with the introduction of smartphones, yet the phone number hasn't evolved like its hardware counterpart has. You still have one connected to your smartphone, right? It is still relatively "dumb." Society's approach to the phone number has grown into a love-hate relationship.

portable

For example, phone number portability does come with a few limitations. If you move to a new country, you need a new number and your identity essentially becomes fragmented over many numbers, carriers, and countries. Getting a phone number can be more difficult than obtaining a common online identifier, like a Facebook login, since doing so usually requires a physical address, too. Most importantly, remembering someone's phone number is more difficult to do than recalling first names or business names. When we want to call someone, we do not type in a phone number. Rather, we look up a name in our contact list.

It seems that the phone number has become more of an identifying key rather than a person's end address -- just like secure keys used in API authentications. Moreover, the structure and use of the phone number has become a mismatch with the way we want to be identified and the way we want to contact each other.

Though there have been many initiatives for bringing the phone number to the Internet such as SIP trunking, which is Voxbone's area of expertise, and the E.164 Number Mapping (ENUM) standard, the phone number is not bound to last very long with respect to our technological advances and Moore's Law. Smartphones are rapidly turning into smart devices of all kinds, and we are developing more advanced human-computer interactions that will not work using complex and obsolete identifiers. Yet, there is no doubt that the phone number is still on everyone's mind today. As the phone number heads to a darker future, work on some things can help make it more dynamic and more intelligent before it is finally eclipsed:

  1. Over-the-top (OTT) providers and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) bringing the phone number to the cloud. The phone call feature of your smartphone is really just another app, and services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber have taken a big chunk of that app market. Though the phone number is at the center of such services (identification and two-factor authentication), a strong division between its circuit-switched and packet-switched (IP) uses persists: Someone calling me on my Verizon phone number will not end up as a WhatsApp call.

    What if I could port my number to WhatsApp? Google's MVNO project -- Project Fi -- and undoubtedly the rise of embedded SIMs allow your mobile number to live in the cloud and, just like your email, work across all of your devices. It's just another sign-on.

    By bringing our phone numbers to the cloud, we would not be bound to an area anymore. Our phone numbers would therefore not need to match a particular format or area code. What would a phone number look like? Could it finally be prime time for Voxbone's iNum initiative?

  2. OAuth and the phone number as a sign-on - As OTTs and MVNOs like Google's Project Fi introduce the concept of signing on to cloud services using a phone number, the concept could be exported to the way we sign on to everything we do online. Just like signing in to streaming services with Facebook or Google, we could be signing in using our phone number.

    OTTs and MVNOs could provide their own OAuth or OpenID identity provision mechanisms with the phone number at their cores. Using the phone number for identity purposes is already familiar to the Web world, as service providers often use it for two-factor authentication and proof of identity.

    Implementing the phone number to OAuth sign-on mechanism would enable us to sign on to Web communication services, like WebRTC-based services, using our phone numbers. Furthermore, this would lead to the opportunity to make these WebRTC-based services more interoperable with traditional telephony. For starters, they would have a similar identification system.

  3. Opening Cloud-based Caller Name (CNAM) and third-party services integration - The development of CNAM databases and the ability to deliver their information over APIs has given rise to a multitude of new third-party services that can provide information about anyone who has a phone number. The phone number does hold a great deal of information about the person using it, and CNAM APIs such as Truecaller or EveryoneAPI, along with Home Location Register lookup services such as Twilio Lookup and Nexmo Verify, have allowed third-party services to provide contextual and unified communication services.

    For example, services like FullContact offer ways to gain social information about people through the use of their APIs, which include CNAM lookups. In the meantime, Facebook has launched Hello. It lets you search for anyone or any business on Facebook and make a call directly from the app. Google also offers Smart Caller ID on Android, which provides reverse lookup of the phone number calling to provide the name of the business entity to the person being called.

    Coupled with the ability to use the phone number for sign-on, CNAM over API would enable consumers to gain power in determining how much of their information third parties will have access to, should they decide to share it with them (just like they can via the Facebook or LinkedIn sign-on mechanisms). And, as noted above, it will allow for contextual and UC experiences.

Issues With Bringing Phone Numbers Online
Though bringing the phone number to the age of the cloud seems appealing, we will need to tackle some important issues. LinkedIn has stopped providing its users' phone numbers through API requests for obvious reasons. Spamming is a big concern, especially with the emergence of full browser communications systems like WebRTC and the opportunity to automate calls.

These concerns also spread to privacy and security topics. CNAM databases offer a centralized way for third-party services to provide information over which the consumer has no control. Unlike when we authenticate to a third-party service using Facebook or LinkedIn OAuth mechanisms, we are not able to control how much information third-party services will gain when performing a CNAM API request.

Are we ready to receive the same amount of spam on our phones that we receive over emai? Clearly, security and anti-spamming mechanisms will have to be thought through very carefully. Facebook is already tackling the trade-off between being able to be contacted by anyone while keeping them safe from spamming.

I'll leave you with a few questions: Though it is ubiquitous, should the phone number still be relevant today? Even if we were able to successfully port its use to the cloud, would that actually fix the problem we have with the phone number's stiffness? Would there be a more ubiquitous way to identify people both online and offline? Maybe the solution is to tackle the interoperability among the different identification silos instead of choosing one universal identifier. Initiatives like Matrix.org are dedicated to tackling this scenario by providing a framework that all service providers can implement to provide identity and hence service interoperability. Your thoughts?





COMMENTS



Enterprise Connect Orlando 2018
March 12-15 | Orlando, FL

Connect with the Entire Enterprise Communications & Collaboration Ecosystem


Stay Up-to-Date: Hear industry visionaries in Keynotes and General Sessions delivering the latest insight on UC, mobility, collaboration and cloud

Grow Your Network: Connect with the largest gathering of enterprise IT and business leaders and influencers

Learn From Industry Leaders: Attend a full range of Conference Sessions, Free Programs and Special Events

Evaluate All Your Options: Engage with 190+ of the leading equipment, software and service providers

Have Fun! Mingle with sponsors, exhibitors, attendees, guest speakers and industry players during evening receptions

Register now with code NOJITTEREB to save $200 Off Advance Rates or get a FREE Expo Pass!

November 1, 2017

Your customers (internal and external) demand that you offer them the ability to connect by any means. With the adoption of cloud communications tools you now have access to an expanded portfolio o

October 18, 2017

Microsofts recent Ignite event had some critically important announcements for enterprise communications. Namely, Microsofts new Team Collaboration offering, Teams, will be its primary communicatio

September 20, 2017

Customer experience can make or break your business. But how do you achieve outstanding customer service when you're dealing with outdated organizational structure, lagging technology, dated proces

October 23, 2017
Wondering which Office 365 collaboration tool to use when? Get quick pointers from CBT Nuggets instructor Simona Millham.
September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular BlogGeek.me blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.