Friday, June 1, 2007

If phone numbers are infinite, why is Gizmo Call's Michael Robertson limiting them?

Multi entrepreneur Michael Robertson is founder of, Linspire and Sipphone (the mothership of Gizmo Call and the Gizmo Project) and other companies. I like his blog very much because he isn't only commenting other people's news, like the majority of bloggers does, but nearly always presenting new features of his products.

I am especially interested in his VoIP ventures, as you can see in my blog posts about the Gizmo Project and Gizmo Call. In the last days I played very much with Gizmo Call's free local numbers. And today I was quite happy to read Michael's interesting background article "Infinity Times Infinity - Telephone Numbers Should Be Free".

There he touts that in fact phone numbers should be free:
Phone companies have created an illusion of a limited amount of phone numbers to justify an unreasonably high charge for a simple telephone number. To buy a telephone number it costs $5-100 per month depending on the country. This is an artificial cost that is not in proportion to the actual costs of a number assignment which should be a one time cost of just pennies. The numbers should be allocated freely because the user will spend money in other ways that make it profitable.

He then explains how Gizmo Call nevertheless manages to give its users free local numbers for incoming calls, although the company itself has to buy them from the telcos.
First, we purchased business type telephone numbers that allow multiple channels. Just as a business can receive multiple simultaneous calls to the same number, each of the numbers in our system can as well. Secondly, we actually assign people the same telephone number and use Caller ID to determine where to route the call.

Gizmo Call purchased a limited amount of phone numbers, for a price that easily "can be covered as a marketing expense", and shares them between its users by taking into account the caller ID, so that there are unlimited call connection possibilities.
Specifically, we need to know the numbers you want to receive calls from in advance. It's very easy to type these into Gizmo Call. And we've created a convenient address book that keeps track of your local numbers for you so you can reference them at anytime.

As I told you in a former post I managed this way to authorize about 50 phone numbers of Peruvian friends. They can call my free local Gizmo Call number (+51-1-70XXXXX) and make my desk phone in Berlin ring. That's great because it feels like my own Peruvian phone number. And at the same time it doesn't take away anything from Gizmo Call's unlimited possibilities. This sole phone number can be used to connect an unlimited number of other people as well, because it takes the caller ID into account. Infinity minus 50 is still infinity!

Michael explains it much better with an example:
Let's say I have a friend in Finland named Markku who I call from Gizmo Call. On his phone he would see a local Finnish number. And you have a friend named Tommi in Finland who you call from Gizmo Call who sees the exact same number. If Markku dials the number our system remembers the Caller ID and knows he is trying to reach me. If Tommi dials the number then our system again uses Caller ID and knows he is trying to reach you. And if you're thinking through all the possibilities if two people call Markku the system is smart enough to always use different numbers.

As you see there are unlimited call connecting possibilities for just one phone number: Markku + Tommi, Markku + Johnny, Markku + Donnie, ... Limited only by the number of Caller IDs that exist in a country. So virtually unlimited.

To assign the same Peruvian phone number to my friends I had to make 50 phone calls to them. That was stressful but I thought this was a one time effort. But then I realized that I will loose this inbound number, that's assigned to a Peruvian friend, if he doesn't call me in six weeks!
Is this really necessary?
I think not. It's just annoying because it wouldn't bother Gizmo to give me this number for ever.

As Michael said: "Everyone except the cartel controlling telecoms knows there are unlimited numbers." And in the same way I don't take away the number from another person if it's assigned to me. Gizmo Call's servers can easily afford a database with millions of phone number combinations. So why is it necessary to loose my free local number, only because my friend did not call me for six weeks?
Could Gizmo Call please abolish this regulation?
That's what I directly asked in the readers' forum for Michael's article.

I don't like the idea to tell a friend my number, but after six weeks I have to tell him another, only because he did not call me. I mean: Most people don't understand what "VoIP" and "phone number multiplexing" means! They will just think that I am crazy because I change my phone number constantly and to every friend I give another.

Technically that's not necessary, I think. Infinity minus 50 is still infinity!

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