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Telcos are missing the real opportunity

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

incandescent-bulbViber has released their PC client and I’m impressed. Quality is HD, interface is simply (remember the days when Skype was fun to use). Viber is perhaps the “new” model for voice. Running on Amazon, it has easily scaled to handle the 18m+ users it has. Viber uses a push notification system so the application doesn’t even have to be running for you to receive a call.

But that’s not the point of this posting.

Viber uses your mobile telephone number as your identification and sending you an SMS verification code(likely using Twilio). While your telephone number only serves as an initial verification, it is the anchor basis for your account. Whatsapp and others use a similar verification process. Telephone companies are missing a big opportunity not to leverage their data knowledge about you.


When the value of telephone numbers disappear, so do telephone companies

So why can’t I query Verizon about a telephone number? It could return information like name, address, current location, known handset type, email, twitter, linkedin, facebook. The list is endless. Similar to Twitter, they could utilize basic security to authorize apps to tap into this information, support both public and private profiles. Finally, if the telephone number isn’t Verizon’s, they could query themselves the underlying operator and poll this information. Think of this as some sort of advanced DNS service (notice I didn’t use the anti-Christ word ENUM).

In the midst of this, telco would amass reams of data on what apps I’m using, what services are polling about me offering them re-marketing opportunities.

A challenge for many WebRTC applications is going to be “how do I find the person I’m trying to reach”. I’m not sure how many more user names and passwords (8 characters, 1 capital letter, 2 numeric and the capital of some African country) I can remember. Things like OpenID and long usernames and email address simply are too cumbersome, telephone numbers are snack size data packets we all understand and can quickly communicate.

For telcos this is a very complex issue with topics on privacy, potential lawsuits, regulatory and their roll as a public utility (though that roll is diminishing). But a failure to play in this changing market assures a most certain death, elongated only by their ability to extract cash from the hapless who remain.

The opportunity is now. Telcos have the opportunity to move to LED light bulbs because the days of incandescent are indeed waning.

Comments 5
  • Tsahi Levent-Levi
    Posted on

    Tsahi Levent-Levi Tsahi Levent-Levi



  • Tom Christian Gotschalksen
    Posted on

    Tom Christian Gotschalksen Tom Christian Gotschalksen


    Short and sweet – right to the point.

    With regards to the privacy part I would also foresee an opportunity for the end user to get an overview of what apps uses your phone number for verification. I was very positively amazed of the twitter functionality of what apps that where using my twitter login, and the opportunity to turn them off. Tink about that not only for identity, but also for payment that’s believe is an adjacent opportunity…


  • Tim Panton
    Posted on

    Tim Panton Tim Panton


    Chris – when you go to call your dentist – do the relevant 10 digits just surface in your head ? Or do you look them up – in a contacts list app perhaps ? Or even on the dentist’s website? So the 10 digits are only useful because you have to move from that app to the phone app and it is convenient to have a short string to cut and paste.

    However once webRTC lets us embed realtime audio and video into the dentist’s website, the number is no longer visible or relevant, it is the goal of getting your teeth fixed that matters.

    So I think that you’ll see the universal identifier change from being a 10 digit number to being a web address or an app.


  • Steven Sokol
    Posted on

    Steven Sokol Steven Sokol


    I have to agree with Tim – I lost the ability to remember phone numbers about the same time started using a feature phone. WebRTC represents the end of the line for phone numbers. Several of the big-iron players (Ericsson, AT&T) are making efforts to leverage E.164 numbers as an identity key. So far as I can tell this hasn’t generated any momentum.

    The wealth of rich identity providers (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, etc.) with open APIs has leapfrogged any sort of identity service the phone companies might have. Facebook knows where I am, who my friends are and what I like. Google probably knows all that plus my shoe size. Verizon knows my billing address. (Yawn)



  • Kartik Shah
    Posted on

    Kartik Shah Kartik Shah


    Hi Chris,

    Tim’s point is very valid. Most people have a challenge retaining phone numbers. An ever increasing list of identities and identity providers have left the telephone number as simply 1 attribute to look me up.

    For telcos to open up this type of lookup would be more a legal, logistical problem than a technology issue.


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