Unified Communications Featured Article

ITEXPO Panel Considers the Future of the Telephone Number

August 12, 2014

What is the future of the telephone number in a world in which unified communications is increasingly moving to an over-the-top model? That was the question posed during today’s ITEXPO panel titled OTT and UC: The Future of the Telephone Number.

The answers from the panelists differed somewhat, but all seemed to agree that until the industry decides to come together on another common method of identification, the phone number will live on.

The panel included Craig Walker of Firespotter Labs; Chris Carabello, senior director of product marketing at Metaswitch; Scott Navratil, executive vice president of Vitelity; and Hugh Goldstein, vice president of strategic alliances at Voxbone. Journalist Doug Mohney moderated.

While Walker said the future of the phone number is assured – at least until a replacement is found – as a unique identifier and a way to reach everyone, Carabello of Metaswitch commented “it’s inevitable that the death [of the current numbering system] will come.” That’s because the need for telephone numbers is dwindling in the world in which things like IM and WebRTC are growing in importance, Carabello said.

Walker agreed, noting that over time numbering is becoming less important, but he added that even in new requests for proposals for phone systems, some customers still ask a lot of questions about fax.

“There are still rotary phones out there,” he added. “There’s still a lot of legacy out there.”

Other, perhaps even more enduring, aspects of the legacy PSTN that still exist are the public safety access points involved in delivering 911 services, and CALEA, which sets up the process for law enforcement-related wiretapping. So the industry would have to figure out how important infrastructure and processes like that would be impacted by a potential phase-out of the traditional numbering system and how they – or something like them – could be supported using a newer setup.

“Obviously it’s going to be super difficult,” said Walker.

In the meantime, much of the focus is on how to bring the benefits of the web into the telephone environment, the panelists noted. For example, rather than using the telephone keypad to control functions like mute during a conference call, users could be presented with an on-screen interface to do the same job with just one click. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle