We've seen a huge change in the mobile networks or carriers in just a few years. Customers have transitioned from wanting minutes and text messages to now wanting data - and we want it fast, too. We're also seeing an increasing broadening of our smartdevices. We have smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, smartdresses, glasses, bracelets, thermostats and the range is growing all of the time. Many of these devices rely on a companion smartwatch in order to connect them to the Internet but we're already seeing these devices connect independently. These devices will need their own Internet identity and this brings me to the Internet of Things, or IoT. One of the cornerstones of this technology is to remove the association with a physical SIM card in order to handle voice and text messages.
This brings us on to how carriers are struggling to avoid becoming merely a provider of mobile data services. Their IoT projects is as much as it is to keep them in the loop as it is to keep customers happy with their data connection. One of the ways that carriers are joining the party - albeit they're late to it - is in providing VoIP, Voice over IP or voice calling over a data connection. You see, we still want minutes but we want our minutes to be available across more devices. The most commonly known VoIP provider is Skype but there are a great many to pick from. We have seen carriers embrace Skype and we've also seen others producing their own competitor, such as Telefonica O2's TuGo application in the UK.
Now, British startup company Swytch are bringing multi-number VoIP functionality to UK smartdevices - initially to tablets and smartphones. Their technology allows a connected device to control many numbers, which are linked to your carrier billing system. It means that you can have a main number, a work number, a girlfriend number, a disposable number for that month when you're looking to buy a house, an eBay number; whatever you want, because numbers are contractless. It also opens up the possibility of cheap international calling: want an American number on your UK cell 'phone? Sure. Want a Spanish number to provide your employees to make the world smaller? Sure. Swytch's systems are integrated with their chosen carrier (and they're keeping who this is close to their chests). It works for the carrier because calls over the Swytch cloud network come out of the normal contract numbers with additional fees on top - typically to the tune of a few pence per minute or text message. This is nothing new to our American readers but it hasn't been done before in the UK market.
The service is currently simple: customers can make or receive calls on any and all numbers that are active on the device, you don't pick the number you want to receive calls from at any particular moment. Swytch report that there's additional call management and blocking featuring "coming soon," so there's nothing so special that you can do with calls at the moment.
It's an ingenious idea. Sure; customers in effect will pay twice for a single call, but it's important to remember that this will bring tremendous flexibility to some people and for the frequent traveler, it could save an enormous amount of money. However, it's not without its flaws. There are some security implications involved: a disposable number might help hackers gain control of accounts, but the service is tracked by the business and it's linked with a contract, so it would be a particularly stupid hacker to try this!
It's just the sort of technology I'd love to see Google acquire. This sort of multi-line technology could be integrated into Google and provide another reason to pick the Android device over the competition. Android can easily be persuaded to use the Swytch dialer rather than the normal one, thus re-routing all calls over the VoIP network.