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.
- My main 703 telephone number from back in Virginia so family and friends can call me free
- My main 408 home number
- My mobile 408 number
- My office 408 number
- My fax “virtual” number
- 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.