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Ever sent a text message to a landline number by accident? Chances are it disappeared into a dark void, enveloped by that strange netherworld where orphan missives — along with lost socks and missing pens — find their final resting place. But starting Wednesday, those messages actually might get received.
A cloud messaging company called Zipwhip has begun linking landline phone numbers to the SMS grid. Anyone with a U.S. number can now go to Zipwhip.com and register their number. You’ll first have to offer proof you own that number — usually by submitting a scanned phone bill — but if you’re willing pay the $19.95 monthly fee you can make and receive unlimited text and multimedia messages through Zipwhip’s cloud service.
As you might suspect, your home or office phone can’t receive an actual SMS. What Zipwhip has done is virtualize the SMS client, allowing you to access it through a browser or through a PC client. You can even download its iPad(s aapl) or Android(s goog) tablet app, so even though the SMS service might be attached to your home number it’s completely divorced from your home phone.
In fact, the SMS service really has nothing to do with your home landline connection or the local phone company providing it, Zipwhip CEO John Lauer said. Zipwhip is using your landline number as a universal identifier for routing text messaging traffic across the internet. From the perspective of Zipwhip’s cloud-based SMS infrastructure, your home phone is wherever you happen to be logged in.
The technology has been available for some time to link landline numbers to the SMS grid, and some providers like Comcast(s cmcsa) allow some two-way texting capabilities between wireline and wireless, Lauer said. But the big barrier has been mobile carriers’ reluctance to bring wireline world into the SMS clubs. Carriers, however, have been working with mobile industry association CTIA and have gradually opened up their networks to make those links possible, Lauer said.
So why would you want to tie your landline to the SMS system? While there may be a novelty factor, an ordinary consumer might find having dual SMS numbers overkill, especially if that extra service costs you an additional $20 a month. Lauer expects that businesses will be the most likely candidates for the service. SMS and messaging have gained acceptance as a means of communicating professionally or with customers, he said, so making your business number SMS capable makes perfect sense.
For instance, customers can text their orders to the local pizza joint using its regular delivery number, and that pizza joint could respond with a confirmation or a receipt from that same number. A salesman could use a single office number for all calls and SMS, rather than confuse a customer or colleague with a text message from an unidentified mobile phone. Mobile marketers could engage in SMS promotions using their own phone numbers rather than rely on complicated short codes.
Though Zipwhip is offering the SMS service independently of wireline operators today, it plans to offer the technology up to local phone companies, which in turn could offer landline texting as a feature in their service bundles.
Founded four years ago in Seattle, Zipwhip has raised $2.2 million form private equity and angel investors. Its first app was an SMS and MMS-forwarding service, offered both as an app for consumers and as a white label technology for carriers. It counts Sprint(s s) and T-Mobile among its customers.
With its new landline SMS technology, however, Zipwhip has moved beyond text forwarding to become a virtual carrier integrated directly into the internetworked SMS grid run by U.S. operators. That distinguishes it from MightyText and other text-forwarding apps. Instead of piggybacking on another carrier’s SMS service through software on the phone, Zipwhip can now power an independent messaging service on any advice over any number.