While it is blazing hot out in the desert in Mid-August outside Las Vegas, cool ideas are being shared inside the gleaming marble conference complex of the RIO Casino & Hotel today at ITEXPO. This morning, Voxbone was included on a panel discussion moderated the by leading authority on VoIP & HD Voice, Doug Mohney, on “OTT and UC:  The Future of Telephone Numbers.”  My fellow panelists were Craig Walker, of Firespotter Labs and UberConference;  Scott Navratil of Vitelity;  and Chris Carabello of Metaswitch Networks.

Craig Walker as usual shared refreshing insights from his roles as a successful start-up entrepreneur running GrandCentral (acquired by Google and turned into GoogleVoice) and UberConferenence (disclosure: we are UberHappy to have them as Voxbone customers.)

Approaching this panel, it was clear that it was set up for a spirited debate.  While it is fun to ponder if telephone numbers would become obsolete some day, its also obvious they are still incredibly essential, and will be for many many years to come.  Perhaps the usefulness of the number has even increased as alternative networks have developed.  Numbers are no longer locked to a geographical fixed network.  They can be used via SIP trunking anywhere in the world. Numbers still can have strong consumer recognition. For example in high profile area codes such as 212, NYC businesses will pay a premium for these rarely available numbers that have strong place recognition.  Customers can have  multiple numbers in multiple countries that ring wherever they wish via IP magic.

The portability of numbers has facilitated the migration from PSTN to OTT/UC/VoIP.  Across every market segment customers easily move to cloud services and keep the familiar phone number their friends, family and customers have known for years.  (Even if more and more people press an icon on a user interface or app, rather than dialing it.)

Social networks that operate as “Islands of Communication” are more likely to start offering customers numbers for rent themselves.  Pre-Microsoft Skype only began to monetize its massively successful free services after offering inbound numbers and outbound calling.  Amazon and Facebook have already tried their hands at offering handsets with varying degrees of success. Microsoft Office 365 is expected to offer telephony as a hosted service in 2015.  Working with trusted partners like Voxbone,  social networks and OTT services can gain instant access to huge inventories of numbers all around the world via API and let Voxbone manage the regulatory side.

In conclusion, for many “traditional” service providers in the near term the number of DIDs in service can be a metric for viability of their products.  If they are net gainers of numbers they are winning new clients with a competitive portfolio of UC services. If they are net losers of numbers, its not likely because numbers are less relevant to their customers, rather because their legacy services are likely not keeping up with the Cloud competition. Despite all the incredible change in infrastructure, user interfaces and protocols,  the phone number remains the same.

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