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Call by Number or Name?

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January 28, 2013

Call by Number or Name?

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

IP telephony advocates have argued the benefits of using names or other natural language "handles" for people, instead of "telephone numbers." But growing use of smartphones and social applications, better directories and IP telephony itself seem to be solving the problem, as a practical matter, even if telephone numbers still are linked to the other identities. 


There is a market, of some smallish size, for vanity telephone numbers and license plates, one legacy way of using "number proxies." Businesses probably represent some of that demand, for reasons related to branding. Beyond that, one wonders how big the market could be, given the shift to the use of IP telephony overall, social apps, smartphones and their directories, most of which allow association of pictures, icons, telephone names and names, and which make "calling by name" a simple process.

To be sure, vanity phone numbers, in the consumer segment of the market, arguably are similar to personalized ring tones. But one might also ask whether dialing by a person’s name, or some other shortened identifier, is actually “better” than dialing by telephone number, in a market where device and application directories increasingly do that by default.

It remains true that not all devices are smartphones and not all directories allow searches by name. But one does wonder how much value or usage a vanity number service will have, long term, in the consumer market? By the same token, it increasingly seems as though our older debates about whether use of phone numbers or “names” was a better way of identifying the people one communicates with. As with the case of smartphones with directories capable of search by name, one wonders if most of the argument about using a “name” instead of a “phone number” as an identifier is not becoming largely irrelevant.

As applications such as Facebook Messenger increasingly support voice calling features, more people are able to search and then “call” by name or picture or icon or phone number, all of which are associated with a person who is a Facebook (News - Alert) friend.

The point is that it increasingly already is a practical reality that people and phone number identities are merged, and that people call other people by finding their names in a directory, not searching by phone number.

That is not the same thing as arguing “phone numbers” are irrelevant. To create a voice session on the public network, numbers are essential. That obviously is not the case with Internet apps that can use any number of other ways to create identities and launch sessions.

But simple logic will confirm that a phone number is a more “unique” way of identifying a specific person than a name, as many people have the same names. Social applications work, so long as both calling party and called party are known to each other in a common network.

As with many other “problems,” devices and apps might already be solving the issue of “dial by number or dial by name.”


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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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