In an era increasingly dominated by digital technology, the once-ubiquitous phone numbers are facing an uncertain future, as growth of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and interconnected communication platforms is rapidly transforming the way people connect with each other.

By Siddharth Bawa, account executive at Infobip

With the use of traditional landlines dwindling and mobile phone usage continuing to surge, it is becoming increasingly likely that phone numbers could eventually become relics of the past.

The changing communications landscape is well illustrated by numbers published by Statista, which indicate that there are currently around 5,18-billion internet users worldwide, and 4,8-billion are social media users, meaning that VoIP calls through platforms such as WhatsApp and Google Meet are gaining tremendous popularity. The rise of VoIP and interconnected communication platforms has largely been driven by their ability to enable people to communicate at lower costs and with greater convenience. As a result, the reliance on traditional phone numbers for communication has diminished but has not gone away completely.

However, while VoIP platforms do offer more affordable communication options compared to traditional phone services, affordability is not the only factor in their rising popularity. As internet usage becomes more widespread, especially through the use of smart phones, people are naturally gravitating towards online communication channels such as WhatsApp.

Greater communication experience

Furthermore, many interconnected platforms not only offer voice calls, but also enable messaging, file sharing and multimedia capabilities, allowing the end user to have an overall enhanced communication experience. Importantly, in a globalised world, these platforms also provide greater accessibility by overcoming geographical limitations and enabling people to seamlessly connect across borders.

Thus, as more VoIP and messaging apps that offer greater versatility and feature-rich alternatives emerge, we are likely to witness a decline in the prevalence of traditional phone numbers.

While phone numbers will most likely begin to evolve in response to these evolving trends, they will probably still serve as a means of contact for legacy systems, as traditional phone numbers are likely to maintain some significance for businesses, alongside digital communication platforms. Even as businesses increasingly rely on digital identities, offering a phone number as a point of contact will continue to convey credibility for organisations. However, their role as the primary communication identifier could decrease significantly.

In contrast, VoIP and social media platforms are leading to more personalised and multifaceted methods of connecting, potentially incorporating elements such as usernames, profiles and even, to some degree, biometric identifiers for communication.

New identifiers

In the long run, with the continued proliferation of digital technologies, many devices will likely establish direct communication with each other or with users, bypassing the need for traditional phone numbers. We could well see a trend emerging where identifiers will be based on factors such as device names, user profiles or even unique markers which could become more common for Internet of Things-based communication.

The advantages of shifting toward alternative identifiers is that – as in the case of email – naming conventions such as usernames could be more memorable and user friendly as opposed to numeric phone numbers. Additionally, communication platforms using names could integrate more seamlessly with social networks and other online profiles, especially in the case of unique handles that are more identifiable.

However, there could be some challenges associated with this structure, such as ensuring the uniqueness of usernames, which could be very complex compared to numeric phone numbers. Privacy concerns may also arise, especially when personal names are used as identifiers. Crucially, transitioning to such a system would require a significant overhaul of existing infrastructures, which might have a significant impact on businesses.

The evolving communication landscape underscores the need for adaptability, and by embracing these new communication methods, both businesses and individuals can enhance efficiency and connectivity. Nonetheless, it is critical to understand the nuances for privacy, security and the level of accessibility as technology continues to reshape how we connect as a society.