Cloud numbers enable privacy in the sharing economy

cloud numbers
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Sharing economy apps make use of mobile voice calls, but users don’t like sharing their private number with strangers. Solution: telcos can provide disposable cloud numbers for such apps.

The seamless transition between digital apps and mobile telephony has increased customer convenience. For instance, many ride-hailing platforms like Uber, Didi Chuxing in China or Gogovan in Hong Kong work on 3G or 4G networks but allow drivers and passengers to communicate over the phone once the order has been placed. This operation takes place over the phone network, as it is more reliable and ubiquitous, especially in markets where 3G networks are not universal.

Most users would not give a second thought to the mechanics described above. However, given increasing concerns related to privacy and safety of confidential data, users are reluctant to reveal their private number to unknown drivers, passengers or delivery people. It is the responsibility of the service providers who wish to grow and benefit from the sharing economy to find feasible solutions that provide adequate safeguards, without hampering the user experience.   

Which brings us to ‘cloud’ mobile numbers.

Companies in the digital sharing economy can use disposable numbers – or cloud numbers – to resolve concerns about safety and privacy. With this model, the user’s private number is not revealed to the driver, neither does s/he have access to the driver’s private number.

Cloud numbers are number ranges originally allocated by the regulator to individual mobile operators but have not been assigned to individual subscribers. These number ranges can be ‘acquired’ by digital service platforms to support anonymized communications.

The platform assigns these cloud mobile numbers temporarily to the platform’s users just for the duration of the transaction – from the time a driver is allocated till the trip is marked as ‘complete’. Both driver and passenger get a cloud mobile phone number, and this gives them a reliable way of reaching each other (even without data coverage), but with their privacy intact. After the trip, the numbers are ‘released’ and can be re-allocated to another transaction. Importantly, neither party can reach the other again through these numbers.

As more people participate in the ‘gig economy’ and use shared services, there is a great need to connect involved parties safely, reliably and for the short term. For companies like Uber, Airbnb or Task Rabbit, providing a secure communication channel linking clients to drivers, tradespeople, house owners or professional service providers is an important way to keep customers safe and loyal to their platform.

Cloud numbers enable this without the need for heavy investment or technical know-how on the part of the digital platform. Moreover, they have many other applications beyond ride-sharing. For instance, they can also be used in call centers or conference calling. With cloud numbers, companies can provide customers with local phone numbers to call the service center, no matter where in the world the customer or the call center are located.

Hassle-free expansion route for Asia’s startups

While using cloud numbers may seem straightforward enough, the process involved in acquiring them is extremely complex, requiring deep and extensive relationships with mobile and telecoms operators. After acquiring these number ranges there is a need for extremely deep telecom expertise to set up the systems that provision and de-provision these numbers smoothly.

Many of Asia’s digital economy startups and platforms are on a rapid regional expansion trajectory. The task of delivering the same service standards everywhere around the region and even the globe makes the problem even more complex.

Digital companies and shared economy service providers located in markets from Singapore to the Philippines can enjoy the advantages of cloud numbers by partnering with wholesale telecoms specialists. Building off of a global footprint, such players are the perfect conduit to offer cloud mobile number services at cost effective rates, often with a customizable, pay-as-you-scale model.

The cloud has fundamentally changed communications. It’s helping Asia’s startups drive efficiencies, reduce costs, tap into new market opportunities, and is a growth catalyst for digital service providers, enabling them to create a global footprint. Cloud numbers are the fundamental building blocks of cloud communications and have a range of benefits from brand visibility, collaboration and customer service.

Written by Malcolm Chan, managing director of Asia-Pacific at BICS

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