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Industry Insight
March 2002

Jim Machi

Are Your e-Numb?


Using �e-� in front of some word is today�s hottest new craze � replacing �.com� at the end of  ultra-trendy company names. Every time I read a trade magazine I�m confronted with e-commerce,  e-banking, e-shopping, and, increasingly, e-areas that don�t even make sense to me. Some marketing genius (like those who put �.com� at the end of their old company names) thinks grabbing onto this newest fad will help make their company Wall-Streetable.

This e-madness has me a little numb. So when I first heard of ENUM, more than a year ago, it just sounded like �e-numb.� And I didn�t pay much attention. When I decided to look into ENUM, no one could tell me precisely what it was. I got conflicting and confusing responses: It�s some way to make your telephone number your IP address. Or your IP address your telephone number. Or your street address your IP address. Anyway, I decided this new buzzword seemed interesting, so over the last year I�ve been keeping my eye on it, going to ENUM sessions at conferences and talking to ENUM enthusiasts.

The ENUM hype reached a fever pitch at the February Internet Telephony Conference & Expo show in Miami, where I ran into an enthusiastic group of people who claimed ENUM was going to change the world (as if I hadn�t heard that before in this industry). But now it�s time to separate the hype from the e-craziness. Just what is ENUM? And what will it mean for all of us?

ENUM is a proposal to map phone numbers to IP addresses. The letters stand for an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) working group called �tElephone NUMber,� which is researching this mapping. This working group has even pumped out RFC2916 as a proposed standard.

Contrary to my initial beliefs, sitting through an ENUM session at an IP telephony show is not very interesting. (In fact, on the fun scale it�s right up there with N.Y. Giants football circa 2001.) If you come to one of these sessions, you will likely have an �opportunity� to be dazzled by the architecture mapping schemes. You�ll see how some database would convert your 10-digit number plan (now required to always dial even to your next door neighbor � what�s that all about?) into some domain name such as an e-mail address. Actually, it�s not specifically the 10-digit number plan, but the E.164 dial plan, which includes country codes, etc. You will probably also be subjected to policy discussions on topics like what role the government should play and the many potential policy organizations in the government. Since we�re talking about a worldwide number plan conversion, the entire International Telecommunications Union (ITU) needs to be involved. After asking yourself whether all this is happening anytime soon, you may be compelled to run from the room before you turn into an e-zombie.

Even if we assume ENUM is just around the corner, why should we care? Is it just some geek form of machismo? Is it a declaration that �I�m mapping all the phone numbers in the world to IP addresses since I can,� the same way George Mallory (ed. Note: the first man to summit Mt. Everest) declared that he climbed Mt. Everest, �because it�s there�? What we really need to know is what ENUM will mean to the industry once all the details are worked out.

First, we must assume money will drive the ENUM effort. With this in mind, the first application that springs to my mind is telemarketing calls and junk e-mail. Since your IP address will be converted to your phone number, and vice versa, there�s broad potential for marketing partnerships. Now your junk e-mail can also become phone calls. And those infernal telemarketing calls? They can become e-mails. Great. Who needs a geometric increase in unified messaged junk? Plus, this capability isn�t even new. One function of an IP telephony gateway is to convert phone numbers to IP addresses and vice versa � and those gateways have been around for years. The only difference is that with gateways, the conversion was limited to your ITSP and its partners. ENUM is supposed to be a worldwide standard.

Let�s go back to the money. I can picture the gigantic database converter in the sky used just to change IP addresses into phone numbers and phone numbers to IP addresses. Let�s say I have a business acquaintance�s e-mail address but not his phone number. I can get it using ENUM. Or if I have his phone number, I can get his e-mail address. This would be useful. But will it change the world? At first glance, no.

At second glance, maybe it will change the world. Think about the younger generations who use the Internet differently than as just a search engine or purchase vehicle. For me, ENUM capabilities wouldn�t be a big deal. But as my kids� generation grows up using the Internet for chat, instant messaging, Internet call waiting, etc., it could very well be a big deal. Maybe phones will go away entirely. Your telephone (IP address) would be just an endpoint, able to do many things. �Talking in real time� would be just one of many capabilities. This is just a thought, but I�m sure if ENUM were in place, enterprising entrepreneurs would use it to solve many problems.

So maybe ENUM will change the world. And maybe it won�t. We won�t know until all those policy wonks get onto the same page. At the very least, though, I do hope ENUM doesn�t prove to be just some e-numbering marketing scheme. If it is, all those e-dudes and dot-com dames will quickly move onto something else. And that�s the last thing we need. c

Jim Machi is director, product management, CT Server and IPT Products, for Dialogic Corporation (an Intel company). Dialogic is a leading manufacturer of high-performance, standards-based computer telephony components. Dialogic products are used in fax, data, voice recognition, speech synthesis, and call center management CT applications. For more information, visit the Dialogic Web site at www.dialogic.com.

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