I’m quite psyched. Thanks to some wizardry from the folks at Vbuzzer, my Voice over IP provider, I now have my business line ringing in multiple physical locations. Call me and I’ll have phones in different parts of Colorado ringing with the call. If I power up Vbuzzer on my laptop, I’ll also be able to plug in a headset or traditional phone and have that ring too, regardless of where I am in the world.
This isn’t particularly rocket science: most of the VOIP systems on the market can do this, but what’s surprising to me is that this feature, what I really consider a killer capability, is barely mentioned by the VOIP providers and even the third-party VOIP resellers who are popping up like mushrooms after a heavy rain.
Think about it, though: you could have your home phone number ring in parallel with your office line. You could have the phone in your weekend cottage or beach house ring at the same time, and you could even unplug the hotel phone and hook it up to a device no bigger than a box of cigarettes and have that ring and appear to all callers as your main office line. No “please hold, trying to track Dave down” stuff, no call hunting, none of that. Just what I believe is a revolution in telephony: the separation of phone number from geographic location.
Colleagues like Om Malik have written about this within the context of 911 emergency service (see his article the FCC and e911) and Brad Feld has also explored this topic in his recent musings about how 911 would work on his VOIP line when he spends half his year in Colorado and the other half in Alaska (see his amusing Vonage 911), but I haven’t really seem much about this untethering of phone from geography.
One fascinating implication of this is that you can now ask for a phone number in an area code you’d like to appear within, even if you aren’t within a thousand miles of the geographic location. That’s right, if you’re secretly located in Oklahoma City, you can still get a Manhattan number so that people in the Big Apple think you’re uptown, not far, far away in “flyover” country.
It also means that the geographic information that’s implied on a modern business card might finally be irrelevant. If I live in Vail, Colorado but consult regularly with a company in Chicago, why not have a business card that lists the corporate mailing address (if any) and a Chicago phone number, even though that line only rings in Vail?
Years ago you could set up a foreign exchange number, but there were fairly exorbitant fees involved and so it was very rare to see anything of that nature. If someone said their number was in area code 202, for example, you could safely conclude they were in Washington DC or thereabouts.
For me, as I’ve said, there’s a tremendous sense of freedom knowing that I don’t need to call in for my messages (Vbuzzer delivers voicemail via email as MP3 attachments. Very nice!) and I don’t need to be a specific place if I’ve set up a call with a client or customer: my line rings wherever I want to hook into the Internet, be it my home office, on the road during a business trip, or relaxing at our summer lake house. It’s all completely transparent.
I think it’s one of the greatest selling points for VOIP, and am continually baffled why none of the many VOIP companies are promoting it to customers. Sure, saving money is a good thing (I love paying $9.99/month for unlimited North American calling), but bringing my phone number with me is just so darn liberating.
Doesn’t it sound wonderful to have a phone number that’s no longer tethered to a specific geographic location?