Single-number ID will ease communications

The government is considering a new electronic numbering system that will allow companies to roll all their different contact...

The government is considering a new electronic numbering system that will allow companies to roll all their different contact numbers and e-mail addresses into single numbers.

Using the electronic numbering technology called e-num, a staff member could give out a single number on a business card, which could allow contact via a landline or mobile as well as sending a fax or e-mail.

A key application for the technology could be voice over IP. E-num IP-based phones can automatically discover whether the recipient's phone is also an IP phone.

The call then bypasses the public switched telephone network, where call charges are incurred, and can be connected over the internet instead.

Tim Chown, of the School of Electronics and Computer Science at Southampton University, said, "e-num is a very flexible technology which allows you to map different numbers to allow easier access, and VoIP is an obvious e-num application."

E-num allows users to specify their preferred mode of contact. For instance, if an IP phone user called them, they could be prompted to send an e-mail.

The Department of Trade and Industry has started a consultation on e-num that will be completed in November, and will stage an industry event on the technology later this month.

The department's move follows a UK e-num trial earlier this year when 5,000 numbers from about 30 companies were used to test applications.

Jim Reid, chairman of the UK e-num transition group, said the technology was expected to make a UK commercial appearance next year.

"The trial showed that issues relating to number registration and authentication still had to be addressed, but we expect e-num to be available for use next year," he said.

The DTI and the telecoms industry will have to set up an independent number registration scheme, that can authenticate registered numbers, to ensure that those registering numbers and e-mail addresses actually own them.

E-num technology is already used in Austria where most phone users are registered with the country's main national phone company using a user name and password, which can be used to register an e-num number.

The process is more complicated in the UK where the telecoms market is more open and phone number portability has operated for more than a decade.

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