Home Telecoms & NBN Which telco is preventing introduction of virtual mobile numbers?

Which telco is preventing introduction of virtual mobile numbers?

MNF's plan to introduce a virtual mobile number service has been stymied by the refusal of a certain carrier to maintain the "any to any" connectivity that is a key feature of the phone system.

MNF (perhaps best known for its MyNetPhone VoIP services and the Symbio wholesale voice network) wants to offer a service that would allow multiple phone numbers to be used with a single handset and a single SIM.

There are plenty of reasons why this could be worth paying for. Businesses could allow their staff to use their own mobiles for work purposes with separate personal and business numbers. Staff would only need to carry one phone, and they could distinguish between calls to the different numbers (eg, by assigning different ringtones). When they leave their jobs, the employer can reassign the virtual number to their replacements.

Self-employed people can similarly separate their personal and business calls, and if they operate multiple businesses they could have different numbers for each.

If you occasionally sell goods through online marketplaces such as Gumtree (or by the time-honoured method of a card on a supermarket's notice board), a temporary virtual number provides privacy. Or you might quote virtual numbers making online purchases, getting a new number as often as you think necessary for privacy purposes.

And on the subject of privacy, it would make it easy to use separate numbers for different companies' two-factor authentication or verification systems.

MNF chief executive Rene Sugo pointed out that while the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 2015 says "any-to-any connectivity is achieved... each end user... is able to communicate... with each other end-user... whether or not... connected to the same telecommunications network."

If even one carrier refuses to route calls to MNF's virtual numbers, the scheme becomes useless: what's the point of having a phone number that some people won't be able to call?

Of the three mobile carriers in Australia, one has agreed to connect to the proposed service, one says it could connect but it would be difficult, and the third says there is "no commercial need" to do so. Sugo declined to identify which carrier was which.

But because of one company's intransigence, "the whole global any-to-any connectivity breaks down", Sugo told iTWire.

MNF has been allocated a block of mobile numbers that could be used for the service, and "we've already built the network" that could deliver virtual mobile numbers as easily as it already handles virtual fixed numbers.

"We want to offer this as a product to the industry," said Sugo, and let people come up with their own ideas about how it could be used.

The problem is that the relevant Act's requirement for any-to-any connectivity is non-enforceable unless a player is prepared to take a matter to court.

So MNF has written to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield explaining the problem and "requesting (that) the minister make a determination to force the mobile carriers to condition all new number ranges allocated by the ACMA without delay".

The letter was sent about a week ago, and the company has not yet received a response.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.