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PORTLAND, OR, United States – Ask a few smartphone owners, and we would like to think that we’ve moved beyond needing a phone number. With email, instant messaging and other communication methods, have we moved on from a traditional phone number? Also, with data plans getting less expensive, I see a common thought that telecommunication companies (called telcos here in the States) should just become ‘dumb pipes’ and just deliver fat data connections and ditch the notion of proprietary add-on services.

Carrying this thought a little further, discount carriers here in the United States offer plans that consist of just a few hundred minutes but unlimited data. We have products such as IM for Nokia that embed the ability to use instant messaging right into a Nokia phone’s contact card. Also, other mobile platforms have implemented proprietary messaging platforms that bypass traditional SMS to deliver messages in real-time.

So, with data carrying Internet connections across many types of mobile phones, is it time to step on the gas and move on from traditional phone numbers?

I’m afraid that at this point in time, old-fashioned phone numbers are still vital to our communications, even in the era of the mobile Internet. Even though in the United States, we have 10 digit phone numbers that seem antiquated in this data-centric era, the numeric phone system remains king when trying to contact someone.

The problem is one of standardization. Even though the Internet is the most universally accessible communications method ever created, we have too many protocols built on top of it that make it a rich medium, but a fragmented one. Think about your instant messaging buddies; are they *all* on the same system? The answer is likely no; because some of your buddies are likely on MSN, while your main co-workers are on Google Talk, and your mobile crew might be on Ovi Chat.  You have access to them, but there isn’t one way to access them. However, think about all your friends with a mobile device – everyone one of them has a phone number.

We have email – which gives us a standardized structure for sending electronic messages, but not everyone globally has email addresses. However, every mobile subscriber has a phone number. Even though we as consumers dislike shelling out so much money to mobile providers, until one IP-based communication method comes along, we’re stuck paying for our traditional phone numbers. Honestly, I can’t see this happening, as each candidate Internet-based protocol is backed by a company with their own commercial interest and viewpoint as to why their standard should be king. There are too many factors that come up against challenging the status quo.

However, standardization and the traditional phone number isn’t all that bad, is it? Think about how convenient it is to be accessible on your mobile device, at all times. This would not be possible if the traditional phone number didn’t exist. You can hand your card to anyone on the planet and be reachable, and that’s a great thing. Could you imagine your business card if phone numbers didn’t exist? You’d have every IM protocol with your name, your Twitter address, your email address and so on.  Maybe traditional phone numbers aren’t all that bad!

Photo Credit: Clemson