3 Reasons Why IP Addresses Won’t Replace Phone Numbers

The IP address is a fundamental part of every person’s connection to the internet. It is therefore also a part of your everyday life if you’re able to read this article on a crisp screen. What makes these addresses so important shares a very strong similarity with the reason why phone numbers are so essential. Seeing this common correlation, companies like AT&T and Verizon are currently fiddling with the idea of replacing subscribers’ phone numbers with IP addresses. To some, the move towards VoIP is glorious. However, there are reasons why such a proposal might just flop. I wish to expose you to a few of these reasons.

1: Population


While we have the possibility of over 9 billion phone numbers (10 digits, per country), the IPv4 protocol only gives us up to 4 billion addresses in its space. Considering that there are 7 billion people on this planet, it’s more feasible to make a choice that gives us more possibilities. The 4-billion-address limit is not exactly at 4 billion. It’s more like 4,294,967,296. It’s still somewhere around that ballpark, and still not enough for the entire planet.

You should also take into consideration the fact that many people have more than one device that connects to the internet. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets puts even more strain on the addressing space. It’s just not a good idea.

You may say, “But IPv6 presents an alternative with 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 (I’m not kidding, this is the real number) possible addresses!” To which my retort would be…

2: Phone Numbers Can Actually Be Remembered


This may not apply if you’re using IPv4. However, as I mentioned above, there’s a major flaw in replacing traditional phone numbers with IPv4 addresses. If we were to switch over to IPv6, we’d solve the population issue, but we’d give people a bunch of addresses that they cannot memorize. The only way to solve this would be to give each person the ability to choose a username or handle. At this moment, however, we don’t have a convention for discovering whether a username in another carrier is taken or not. There would have to be a central database that all carriers would have to collaborate on, which would incur different costs on each one for “licensing and access.”

I just don’t think that these things make eliminating the good old reliable phone number worth it.

3: Cellular Signal Is King


What happens when 3G, 4G, HSDPA, and all those other fancy acronyms go down? Your cell’s reception might still be working. In fact, in many cases, it’s the most reliable signal you have. When travelling, you’ll encounter pockets of 4G disruption, but you’ll still have your cellular network’s signal. The way things are right now, I think it’s wise to keep traditional cellular communications around for a little while longer.


Perhaps in the future, as things improve, we can ditch “the cell” for more lucrative 4G wireless connections around the world. But for the time being, moving to IP addresses might be an idea that’s a bit too ahead of its time. The cost of doing it, in terms of customer confusion and investment in spectrum and infrastructure, might cause more frustration than it would convenience.

Now it’s your turn to talk. Leave your thoughts on this in the comments below!

Miguel Leiva-Gomez
Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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