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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.