UK ENUM Conference

So I attended a conference today held in London to learn about and develop commercial ideas concerning ENUM.

ENUM allows businesses and individuals to publish their telephone number (fixed or mobile) within DNS records so that VoIP clients and providers may look them up and provide a more direct connection to number owners.

The initial goal is reasonably simple, and has to be to gain traction. Imagine the NHS has 500 telephone numbers that it operates as 0800 freephone numbers to allow customer (patients) to contact various local departments. The cost of each minute of every call is borne by the NHS so ultimately by the British taxpayer. Now the NHS also has VoIP connectivity and decides to advertise their 0800 numbers through DNS using ENUM. Subsequently, every time someone using VoIP decides to call any of those 0800 numbers their VoIP provider will find the 0800 number in the ENUM DNS listings for the NHS and will connect the caller to the medical department using VoIP alone – at no cost to either party (usually).

Clearly with this approach there is scope for financial savings. That said, there remains considerable work needed to achieve even this small goal, let alone the potential options further down the road.

In case you were wondering, ENUM is an international standard being implemented by individual countries separately through their respective Governments. The UK Government, through regulator OFCOM, has assigned the design, implementation and ongoing administration of the project to UKEC who, in turn, have contracted much of the work to Nominet. Nominet administer and maintain the .uk gTLD – when you buy any domain ending .uk it is ultimately sold by Nominet although almost always through a reseller (“registrar”) like GoDaddy.

So we now have a basic goal with example and a non-profit company to drive it forward. Part of the reason Nominet were awarded the contract was their intentions to market the ENUM provisioning as a resellable product. And here’s where the majority of blank faces emerged. The audience consisted of any parties interested in becoming ENUM registrars, effectively reselling the service of adding your telephone number to the DNS system. To be more accurate, the audience actually consisted mainly of people in the telecoms and ISP industry wanting to know what ENUM was and whether there was any commercial potential for them or whether it might actually screw them out of their revenue.

The message from Nominet was very clear on one matter. The end is in sight for minute revenues. This means your current fixed line telephony bill of 10p per minute connected to someone with a different geographic area code will be reduced to nothing. Your mobile network tariffs will no longer give you minutes in your bundle as calls to your mates will be free. Don’t ask for a timescale on this although the impatient amongst you could always hook up with VoIP today and extend your reach to your mobile phone provided you can install a VoIP client and connect via WiFi.

To be honest, the Marketing Director of Nominet introduced the commercialisation of ENUM as a set of current ideas rather than anything more concrete. He was, literally, waiting for suggestions from the audience. The common thread that was registration of the number would likely end up free, with registrars making their profits from value-added services. It was suggested one way would be to operator publicly accessible directories of businesses with their advertising online and a simple click to call mechanic.

There are two current matters in my mind that restrict uptake and promotion by business (registrars).

  1. You can list more than just a VoIP endpoint with your telephone number, but what else is currently undefined and may be regulated for privacy reasons. This does have potential for more far reaching consequences
  2. You still cannot obtain a telephone number for life, or extend it. The number you can register have to come from a Communications Provider (CP) like BT. If you move providers can cannot take your number, you’ll have to register your replacement number instead. And because the ENUM system converts a number into DNS (02071234567 becomes 7.6.5.4.3.2.1.0.2.4.4.e164.arpa – the software will do this for you!) you should be able to extend this yourself by addition additional digits and sending these through to your local phone system just like an automatically dialed extension.
  3. Each registration must go through a verification agency to ensure the registrant really does own the telephone number being registered there will be an additional cost (read: Higher bar to entry).
No doubt business models will emerge from this but for now ENUM remains in the cot after birth, ready for the world to sit up and really take notice and exploit its full potential.
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