We’re starting to think that phone numbers are deprecated; it may be time to integrate how we connect telephones with the new digital millennium. To get a firm grasp on this topic it is important to take a look at the reason we started using phone numbers, why we still use them, and the why’s and how’s of transitioning to a new system.
History of phone numbers
Telephone numbers started out as a way of physically addressing a telephone extension. Whether connected by an operator at a switchboard or through a magnetic exchange, each number corresponded to the hardware switch that connected the handset you were trying to ring. This originally started with named exchanges such as Pennsylvania-6-5000. The geographic location of the extension was shown in the name and this system gradually transitioned over to area codes and prefixes.
The proliferation of cell phones means that numbers are no longer tied to a physical location but are routed to the nearest tower to which each wireless phone is currently connected. So why have we continued to use telephone numbers? Backwards compatibility is paramount. Cell phones overtook land lines years ago but there are still millions of people connected to the telephone companies’ wired networks. Most of the phones used on these land lines rely on the touch tone system to function. Even the advent of Voice over Internet Protocol implements the same system of connecting calls by dialing a number.
What works better than phone numbers?
How many different phone numbers does your family have? Many households have a home phone, a cell phone for each family member, and a work phone for each adult. What if all of these numbers were addressed similarly to how the Domain Name System works for internet addresses? Something like this:
This can be accomplished in the near future. All cell phones and many land line phones already have the ability to store numbers so that you only have to enter them once. Cell phones can already input web-style addresses and a firmware upgrade would allow for a new system of addressing and storing voice connection information. Service providers like Comcast and Charter are already providing phone service that utilizes VOIP, paving the way for dialing from your computer. For legacy hardware an inexpensive interface box similar to the digital cable converter boxes could be implemented. The new box would have a keyboard and character LCD and be rolled out in the same way that caller ID boxes were.
No one wants to change their telephone number and be in the position of trying to inform everyone who might ever call them. This is why laws were enacted to allow you to keep your telephone number if you change carriers. If each family owned their “voice domain”, changing carriers, cities, or even countries would be as simple as editing the domain registration. Transitioning to a new system of dynamically addressed telephone extensions is the next logical step in voice communications. Although it would be a change for billions of people, it is possible and worth taking a look at.
[photo credit Projekt Runeberg]