Just As I Thought

More Digits Than Fingers

I wonder how long it will be before the telephone system in this country adds another digit. I ask because as of today, I — one, single person — have a total of six telephone numbers.

I wonder how long it will be before the telephone system in this country adds another digit. I ask because as of today, I — one, single person — have a total of six telephone numbers.

  1. My main 703 telephone number from back in Virginia so family and friends can call me free
  2. My main 408 home number
  3. My mobile 408 number
  4. My office 408 number
  5. My fax “virtual” number
  6. And now, my 408 “Grand Central” number.

Grand Central is a service — free, in beta — that assigns a single number to each user, then forwards calls to that number to any combination of your other phones. This is a system that I already have, as I use Vonage for my main telephone; that’s how I kept my 703 number when I moved to California. But the killer part of the Grand Central service is its discrimination in ringing your phone. You can set preferences that only forward calls from certain people; record different voice mail messages for different callers; restrict the time of day that your phone will ring; and I’m certain more enhancements are yet to come.
This is pretty neat stuff, and I think that it presages the future of telephones. I can envision a day when, finally, one number is assigned per person and that single number can be used to ring a mobile, wired, or virtual phone. It’s all about the routing — and the cooperation of competing telephone companies, which is probably the most daunting obstacle. I can’t imagine that there is much of a technological barrier to overcome; cell phones are already addressed by their electronic serial numbers, not their phone numbers, so why can’t land line phones transition to the same sort of system? Then a central registry of telephones — a telephony root server — could be programmed with the correct phones to ring when a certain number is dialed. Can’t be too hard, after all, you reached this specific web page on a specific computer by typing in some words which were then matched up with the specific routing information in a database.
Perhaps it is time to, like television, transition our telephone system to a digital, IP-based one?

By the way, Grand Central uses its service as a way to provide free telephone numbers to members of homeless community in San Francisco — this means that potential employers, health care providers, friends, and family have a means of leaving a message. Now that is a great idea and a great application of technology.

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