Voxbone is building what it calls a virtual country.
Why tie yourself down to a single country code (+33 for France, +44 for the UK, etc.)? Wouldn't it be easier to have a single code that worked everywhere? A Belgium-based provider of international inbound numbers and VoIP transport, Voxbone has developed just that. Its iNum product can assign country code +883 to any user, and calls can be received anywhere in the world.
The company's CEO and co-founder and Rodrigue Ullens said the idea of a single, portable country code responds to changing ideas about what it means to be international. Rather than thinking in terms of distance or national borders, telecom is increasingly oriented toward local presence and global relationships.
Voxbone will provide iNum numbers free to wholesale carriers and service providers, who in turn can give away the numbers to consumers based on their own business models.
The International Telecommunication Union has given Voxbone 100 million numbers in country code +883, and Ullens said he expects to have distributed all these to his 1,200 clients by the end of 2009. Because these service providers and wholesalers furnish local numbers in some 5,000 cities, Ullens predicts iNum usage will pick up at the consumer level fairly quickly.
The process works like this. First, a consumer dials a +883 number, which passes through one of four carriers/peering exchanges: Arbinet-thexchange Inc., Belgacom ICS, Level 3 Communications Inc., and Stealth Communications' Voice Peering Fabric. These in turn route the call to whichever provider issued the iNum that was dialed.
It will also be possible to dial iNums indirectly from the PSTN. Callers can dial a local Voxbone access number and from there dial through to the iNum recipient.
Ullens said iNum does not need VoIP to work, but that initial usage will almost certainly be nearly all VoIP based. In the first place, some 70 percent of Voxbone's clients are VoIP-centric, and the management of these calls will be in their hands.
Further, the VoIP-based carriers tend to be the ones pushing the boundaries. "In the telecom world, usually it is the voice over IP companies that are moving faster, that are more future looking, so that participation in the iNum community will initially come most strongly from the VoIP community," he said.
Finally, the very notion of a virtual country code responds to the kind of world already envisioned by VoIP advocates. "Among the VoIP providers the majority have customers in more than one country, and usually in many countries, whereas if you look at the more traditional carriers they typically serve their home country and maybe two or three others," Ullens said.
In addition to the four wholesalers named above, Voxbone also has relationships with a handful of service provider, including Jajah, Mobivox, Gizmo5, Ribbit, iotum, Rebtel, Voipbuster, Voxeo, and Voipuser. It will be up to them and the wholesalers to monetize iNum, and Ullens anticipates they will do this in a number of different ways, depending on their individual business models.
Some will handle iNum calls for free, while others will charge by the minute. Most will tailor their plans more specifically to their target audiences.
"The carriers themselves will provide their own service around it, whether it is an iNum for call-conferencing clients, or a hosted PBX provider going to business customers with an iNum number as a new way to contact the business for free," Ullen said. "So it will depend a lot on the businesses, each one marketing it their own way, with the common iNum brand."
His hope is that these wholesalers and service providers will decide they have an interest in iNums, either as a new revenue stream or a value add for their existing offerings. This in turn would speed the spread among consumers.
It helps that Voxbone is starting with an existing base of partners. "Having these relationships helps us ensure that all these carriers we deal with can integrate iNum into their systems much faster than might haven been possible without those relationships," Ullems said. For these existing carrier, "it's just like adding another country. Technically, it is exactly the same as how it already works."
Adoption among the carriers could in turn hoist Voxbone's star, as the core of a worldwide iNum community.