Ready for Virtual Phone Numbers?

"Disposable" VoIP number that rings your cell phone lets you control who calls and how much they know about you.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Jan 30, 2008
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Ever feel reluctant to give out your personal phone number in a situation where you wanted to be reachable, but also wanted to protect your privacy or preserve your anonymity? Some examples that come to mind are making an initial contact through an online dating service, or filling out a credit card application.

On the other hand, did you ever wish your phone could project a caller ID other than your personal one.

A solution to both problems was announced last week with the launch of Vumber, a secure, two-way, "disposable" calling service.

Enterprise VoIPplanet.com had an opportunity to speak with co-founder Cliff Wener and get the whole story.

"The concept is we can give you a new phone number in any area code you want—almost instantaneously—and that number then works," Wener explained.

That is, for a mere $4.99 per month, Vumber (as in Virtual number) customers get to pick a DID (direct inward dialing) phone number in any area code. Calls to that number will ring the phone of their choice—usually their mobile phone. Outbound calls made through that number (you dial you Vumber plus the number you wish to reach) reflect that caller ID, not your personal one.

While DIDs have become commonplace, thanks to their availability through services like Skype and Gizmo Project, Vumber is different in one vital respect: "You don't need a PC for our system," Wener pointed out. "It's phone only; there's no VoIP from the desktop."

For indeed, all of this magic is carried out through IP telephony, but "the VoIP only exists from our switch into the Internet," Wener told VoIPplanet.com. As with many IP based schemes, termination is through the PSTN.

"It behaves just like a regular phone number," he continued. "The difference is it's disposable. You can get rid of it when you want to; you can get a new number when you need to do that. You can customize who calls you and when they can call you."

That last piece certainly caught our attention. Asked to elaborate, Wener explained that as of today, Vumber can "change the call treatment based on the caller ID of the person calling you. So if there's someone who's been bugging you, you can just give them a ring-no-answer—or you can deliver a custom message saying, 'The number you've just dialed is no longer in service.' "

Scheduled to be out shortly, according to Wener, is "a completely customized scheduling case as part of our new release." Scheduling can be on an individual basis or by group. "As in 'The following group can only call me after five o'clock' " Wener said.

Moreover, on request, Vumber will compile lists of who called your DID over a given time period, and from what area codes—an outgrowth of one surprising piece of fallout from the product launch: Whereas the founders created the service with online dating, personals, and classifieds in mind, it is being taken up, increasingly, by business people.

As examples, Wener cited marketing companies buying blocks of numbers for marketing campaigns, sales people having local numbers in multiple cities that all ring the same phone, and tradeshow exhibitors who want to compile stats on how many leads their show participation generated.

"Our users have said, basically, 'We're going to use it for what we want to use it for, not what you tell us to use it for,' " he said.

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