Area Codes Are Dead — Thank VoIP

Over the years we have seen the gradual separation of phone numbers from geographical location. To date, Skype’s SkypeIn service has been the best demonstration of this trend; even though I live and work just outside Toronto, Canada, I have a Palo Alto, Calif., SkypeIn number for historical family reasons, and I recently acquired a San Francisco number for Truphone. The same separation can apply to most VoIP-based voice services.

Over the past couple of years Belgian-based Voxbone has also developed an international numbering service which offers its clients a “local” phone numbers in any of 5,000 cities in 45 countries. OnState has used Voxbone’s “local” numbers as access points to its virtual call center service; its clients’ businesses can offer customer service and support centers with worldwide “local” access. However, it would be even more convenient for businesses selling into multiple countries if they could simply offer one universal number worldwide. Now, they can.

Yesterday, three months after the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) made available the +883 “global” country code, Voxbone announced the launch of its country-agnostic iNum service. I first learned of Voxbone at last spring’s eComm 2008 where Voxbone CEO Rod Ullens first mentioned the iNum concept. This announcement starts to realize his vision of enabling low cost conversations with worldwide access by taking advantage of the technology around IP-based communications:

“iNum is a new kind of phone number for a new kind of world — a world with a new geography that’s about local presence and global relationships, not about distance or national borders,” said Rodrigue Ullens, CEO and co-founder of Voxbone. “We believe the new geography is defined by the markets, customers and vendors that businesses need to connect with most. We need ‘local’ communication with these people — whether calls originate on public-switched or VoIP networks, whether they are truly local or ‘virtually’ local.”

In practice, that means a Voxbone iNum Service Provider Partner will supply a customer, whether an individual or a business, with a number that has an 883 country code. Once the service is fully rolled out to Voxbone’s 5,000 local points of presence worldwide, that iNum number will be accessible for, at most, the cost of a “local” phone call from any PSTN or VoIP service.

“At most,” because fundamental to Voxbone’s services is that they are IP-based and therefore calls amongst iNum Partners’ services are free. Currently Voxbone has 10 iNum Service Provider Partners, including Truphone, Mobivox and Voxeo, who either have made iNum numbers available today or will do so in the next few weeks. (For those callers who don’t use an iNum partner’s service, iNum numbers can be called through 55 “local” access points in 45 countries for the cost of a call to these access points.) Ullens, in a SquawkBox conference call yesterday, said that Voxbone will be negotiating with carriers and service providers worldwide to build out their service to become universally available.

Voxeo has set up a demonstration iNum service example; call +883 510 001 800 028 024, give their virtual operator a U.S. postal code and you will get local weather reports. This call can be made via the iNum Partners’ services today; it will become available via the local access points as they are set up over the next week. Another example: iotum’s Callflower Conference Call service will be using iNum numbers in a few days.

Jim Courtney is an Associate Editor of Skype Journal.

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