Voxbone operates a global communication network already well known as a reputable provider of direct inward dialing numbers and toll free numbers that allow businesses to establish local presence in 47 countries and more than 4000 cities worldwide, no matter where their physical locations place them.
But the company offers another service called iNum that takes the concept of virtual presence to an entirely new place and just may provide the transformational basis needed to break people of the notion that all you can do with a phone number is make and receive voice calls.
iNum wants to take the ordinary phone number beyond voice, to IM, text, and access to rich web-based communications applications. We sat down Voxbone CEO Rod Ullens at eComm09 to get the low-down on the company’s big plans.
With iNum, Voxbone has created a “virtual country” using a new international access code (+883) established by the International Telephone Union (the Geneva-based organization that standardizes international telephone connections), making its 100 million registered phone numbers recognizable to traditional landline and mobile telephone networks. But iNum numbers exist as nothing more than virtual “identifiers,” and are not connected to any physical space. iNum numbers are recognizable to IP networks and can support much more than just voice.
On the voice side, Voxbone has partnered with service providers such as Gizmo5, Google Talk, Jajah, TrueVoip, Voxeo and others, making iNum identifiers reachable from those services for free.
The iNum network’s initial enhancements support presence and IM functionality to iNum identifiers, meaning when an iNum subscriber is online, that person’s contacts can be aware of that fact and have the option to call or IM, depending on what might be preferable to a caller in the moment.
“Since we are not providing services to consumers, our goal is to give capabilities to service providers and they use that to make interesting, value-added services to their customers,” explains Ullens. “We’ll keep adding more and more capabilities and adding more partners, and they will come up with new applications.”
As an example, Ullens mentioned Voxeo’s Tropo.com initiative, also announced this week at eComm, a suite of development tools that developers can access and collaborate through using the Voxeo “cloud.”
One capability enabled through Tropo allows developers to build an application that uses an iNum number. “This opens a lot of possibilities because every kind of developer can now create applications that are reachable by the whole iNum community,” Ullens says.
“We are just putting the basic layers on a big new network, trying to populate the virtual country,” he explains, but the real beauty lies in the way iNum bridges many different networks and domains.
We asked Ullens about resistance to this idea from traditional voice carriers and regulators. “The incumbent carriers see something new, they don’t really know if they can benefit from it, so they will probably make it hard for it to be implemented,” he admits, but as things are evolving, his main concern is the mobile operators.
“I don’t really need the incumbents any more because everything is mobile today. And the mobile operators are interested. Because iNum gives them access to a lot of voice enabled applications that are really value added services they can bring to their users.”
This concept is still embryonic and Ullens sees the iNum network serving as a kind of open network laboratory for a lot of operators, handset manufacturers, developers and people involved in the communication space to just plug in to the iNum network to connect to one another, to exchange ideas and create the next level of modern communications functionality that goes beyond simple voice.
As Ullens puts it, “We just want to be there as a facilitator for innovation.”