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.


  1. Point # 2 is so true. Funny thing is, you’d be surprised by how many people who don’t know the phone number to their own phones :)

    1. When was the last time you called your phone number, especially if you have a cell phone?

      For most people, memory is developed by repetition. If you do not dial a number often, there is no opportutnity to form a memory.

  2. I agree with Joe.

    I never actually remember anyone’s number any more – in fact I recently had my mobile phone stolen and discovered that I actually communicate via email, Skype, Facebook etc much more than anything else – the only thing I’ve been disappointed in has been WhatsApp which is linked to my mobile number and I can’t use it without the phone – I’ll be looking at alternatives when I get my phone back!

    In conclusion I don’t think I need a phone number or an IP address. Apps are the things taking over the world!

    1. Emma…without an IP address, your Apps won’t be communicating with anything but your own phones internals. No IP address, no internet connection. No internet connection, no app to app communication with other users!

      1. Richard – Yes – but I don’t need to know my IP address – which was the point of the article above. I don’t need a static IP.

        1. In the future, the telephone number might become obsolete because of usernames. However, this doesn’t discount the fact that a large portion of the world’s population still relies heavily on phone numbers. Once this is rectified in at least one country, then we can talk about saying goodbye to phone numbers for good (unless, of course, you communicate with the outside world).

          1. More and more are relying of the phone to remember the phone number, you just look up the name and then press on the right type of communication you want to use.

            So yes, both phone numbers and IP-numbers (both IPv4 and IPv6) are not needed to remember by ordinary people. You use the computer for what it is good for, remember and searching numbers.

            So you will only need your local phone book and/or your DNS registration (yes, there are one domain for phone numbers, not just IP numbers).

    2. Whatsup can be used with another phone number, you need it when you register. But after that you can change phone number…

  3. Well, here is my take…I am an old-timer (well over 50 but that’s as far as I will go here) and I still have a landline phone with voice mail. I use it because (a) I don’t have to worry about reception/signal issues; (b) it is highly reliable; (c) with the hearing disability I have it is much easier to have conversations over & hear when it rings; (d) it’s operating costs for me is cheaper than most wireless plans; (e) my children & grandchildren can reach me easier. Now don’t get me wrong, cell phones have their place. I carry one, receive messages from the server for work purposes, receive & send moderate texts from co-workers, family, & friends, make & receive calls, etc. I am not a heavy cell phone user nor do I ever plan to be. In fact, I am considering a downgrade to my wireless plan. Bottom line: I don’t let that damn cell phone dictate my life nor is it always “attached @ the hip.” Life would be much better had cell phones never came about. I don’t care who agrees or disagrees with me because I know how true it is. BTW, I sure as hell not an app user nor do I want to be.

    1. I’m only in my thirties, but I agree with you wholeheartedly. I usually carry my cell phone in case I have car trouble or something, but I rarely ever actually use it. And I certainly don’t have any intentions of becoming an app addict.

    2. Where I live more people are giving up the land line all together, as the wireless plan cost much less than land line. There are even people that drop land line to do wireless internet through their phone.

      Yes, I am over 50 too…

  4. The problem with #1 is that 9 billion numbers is still not nearly enough. At the very least we will at some point have to go to longer phone numbers, or something.

    1. The 10 digits (9 billion or so numbers) is per nation. So even China & India with current 1 billion + populations still have plenty of room for growth using the current telephone numbering scheme, and when they do require additional numbers they can be easily added by extending a specific nation an additional Country Code.

      1. “So even China & India with current 1 billion + populations still have plenty of room for growth using the current telephone numbering scheme”

        Not as much as you may think. You are forgetting about businesses and companies which sometimes require thousands of unique phone numbers.

        1. A country of 1 billion can have up to 9 phone numbers on average per person. I hardly think that there’s an issue in that.

          The presentation of new choices to businesses is pushing them towards unified communications through IP-based private branch exchanges (PBX). This allows the entire company to share one phone number with a number of extensions. Alongside of this, the unified communications environment allows for username-authenticated VoIP in the case of personal conversations. Video communications companies like Zoom.Us are throwing voice out the window and presenting an alternative to SMBs and large enterprises alike. I think we’ll get along fine with a 9-billion-number limit.

    2. I do not understand – I think the analogue land lines allow for an infinite number of numbers. My work mobile phone number has 16 digits (13 if you call from inside Austria), which is 100 Quadrillion numbers. There might be some recent technical limitation in some US phone providers implementations, which should however not be taken for a limitation of the system…

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