On October 20th, Bill Reidway, Vice President of Numbering Services Product Management at Neustar blogged on the topic of number portability, and why it is important to both the telecom industry and end users. As manager of the National Portability Administration Center (NPAC), Neustar connects more than 2000 carriers in North America, supporting user ability to change carriers without changing their phone number, and seamlessly routing calls between all carriers regardless of the original source of individual or blocks of phone numbers.
Pacific-Tier Communications interviewed Reidway with the intent to learn more about Neustar’s activities with the NPAC, as well as dig a bit deeper into the company’s vision on the future of telephony, telephone numbers, and communications.
Origins of the NPAC
According to Reidway, administration of the NPAC has continued to change since local number portability was mandated as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Neustar has managed the NPAC program since 1997, with changes along the way including addition of wireless network portability, internodal portability, and most recently in 2007, VoIP carrier portability.
Reidway is convinced telephone numbers and telephone carriers have a good future. While many talk about the potential of peer-to-peer technologies, such as Skype, as the future of communications, Reidway strongly believes the need for telephone numbers remains unabated. “Even Skype needs to connect to the PSTN (public switched telephone network) to provide a meaningful user experience” noted Reidway. “Bypassing the telephone number is still an exception to the rule.”
While emphasizing the existing TDM networks offer a great deal of control, particularly in terms of cutting down unwanted telephony traffic, Reidway cautions the IP telephony world is still a bit like the wild, wild, west, raising challenges in security, load balancing, and network authorization. “Neustar has to keep up with technology” continued Reidway, explaining the telecom industry has made the decision to support Internet protocols (IP). He uses the cable industry as an example of carriers running “all” IP telephony networks.
Decline of the Fixed Line Network
It is clear fixed line telephone services in the United States are beginning a rapid decline, with users favoring mobile phones and computer-enabled telephony. Reidway fully appreciates the dynamics of user migrations and mobility, assuring the NPAC is not constrained by the “vagaries” associated with fixed-line networks and location. “As the fixed line network begins to fall by the wayside” explained Reidway, “the notion of telephone numbers associated with a specific geography falls with it.”
Reidway also explained that although telephone numbers no longer have rigid location sensitive significance, users still generally prefer to associate their phone numbers with a location, and that is particularly important for business users. While it is certainly possible for a business or individual to use an area code, or even country code from any point in the world, he believes an area code “still says something about the identity behind the number.”
A Peek into the Future
Neustar currently has no specific plan to change NPAC’s operations, as carriers understand there are still ample supplies of telephone numbers available to support new numbers, possibly for several decades into the future. With additional opportunities through number pooling (in 2000 the FCC allowed smaller carriers with large amounts of unused telephone numbers to contribute those excess resources to a common number resource pool for distribution to other carriers in need of additional numbers), North America has sufficient numbers to last at least several decades.
When asked of the potential of individuals, businesses, and even objects such as refrigerators all being able to tag an identity to an IPv6 address, with all potential modes of communication ultimately finding a way to that identity, Reidway understands the question. The issue, and the very long term significance, are a very important discussion, one which Reidway is prepared to engage.
The communications and network-enabled global community are changing quickly to meet the needs of existing and new users. Infrastructure shortfalls in many locations around the world which have historically throttled citizens from being able to join the the global community are now being reinforced, allowing nearly every point of the world some level of access to the Internet, long before most are able to secure a fixed line telephone.
Impact of Peer-to-Peer
As of September 2011 Skype claims more than 660 million registered users, nearly 1/8th of the world’s population, representing more than 190 billion minutes of non-telephony, unpaid communications, with 13% of those minutes bypassing international carriers.
As the concept of interpersonal communications continues to morph into a form which may not be easily envisioned today, Nuestar, with additional services such as domain name and registry services, IP geolocation, and IP translation/mapping services such as ENUM, Reidway maintains confidence Neustar and the NPAC have both flexibility and resources to ensure North American carriers, users, and networks are not caught short in the global move to Internet-enabled multi-media and communication services.
Reidway concluded “we have the experience and capability to help any transition to new technologies and emerging forms of communication.”
You can read all of Reidway’s blogs at Neustar Insights, and comment on his ideas, visions, and support of the North American communications community.
NOTE: Pacific-Tier Communications LLC is not affiliated with Neustar or the NPAC. This interview and article are intended to inform readers of the NPAC, and some of the thought leaders responsible for managing and developing infrastructure needed to keep the US and North American competitive in the global market and community.