Friday, July 27, 2007

RNK - Better Idea Than GrandCentral?

I had a briefing yesterday with Rich Koch, the CEO of RNK Communications, a New England-based CLEC. They've got a nice business going, and this week announced a pretty interesting service. It's called Phone Number Bank - not the most exciting name, but something I think will have a lot of appeal, and I don't think it's received much attention in the blogsphere.

Basically, the idea is similar to GrandCentral by being a one number front door for all your calls, and works like a find-me follow-me service. When you "deposit" your phone number with their "Bank", it stays with them "forever". Pretty straightforward, and once it's there, you can manage the flow of all your calls on all your other numbers. So, it basically does what GrandCentral does in the sense that all your contacts only ever need to use one number to find you. Ok, that's very convenient, and of course you can manage all this ad infinitum online, so there's limitless potential for customization scenarios.

So what's the catch? RNK does charge for the service - under $10 a month. Your first response would be - why should I pay for this when GrandCentral is free? Fair enough, but here's why. RNK is a CLEC, and that means they can keep and issue phone numbers. No matter where you live or move to across the U.S., the number stays with you. That can be very convenient for people who move or relocate regularly, and Rich opened my eyes as to just how many Americans do that every year. If you're using a VoIP provider - they are not CLECs - they don't own those numbers, and you can't port them if you move. If you're the kind of person who is really attached to your phone number, this makes a lot of sense.

There's another thing that stands out for me. I really like GrandCentral, and Google was smart to buy them, but I have trouble with the basic idea. For GrandCentral to work, you have to adopt a new phone number (which they do not own - it's rented), and more importantly, everyone you stay in touch with needs to do the same. To me, that's a lot of habit-changing to make your life more manageable. I'm sure it works for a lot of people, but I'm not in that crowd.

I can see people being willing to pay a few bucks a month for what RNK is offering - no behaviors have to change, and you basically own your number for life. I realize that in the true Voice 2.0 world, the concept of phone numbers is so yesterday, but I think for the vast majority of the population, RNK has something good to offer. And I think a lot of people will find that reassuring given how volatile things are with the SunRockets and Vonages of the world. This is one way to be sure you'll always have your number even if your provider goes out of business. Now you know.

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ipcom said...

Posted by: Simon

I believe Grand Central owns the numbers that they offer you when you sign up for the service. There have been talk for a while on some other blogs that they'll eventually let you port your number to their service.

If RNK is exactly like Grand Central, I can see a suit coming real soon.

ipcom said...

Posted by: alex c.

I have to disagree with you on that Simon - it seems that the whole point of the blog (and product differences touted on the two websites) is that RNK is a real phone company, so they can access your existing number (like Verizon, etc.)

I don't see how Grand Central/Google could sue if they aren't a phone company, and can't port existing land line numbers. They seem different enough on that point.

Plus I don't know any other service that can do it right now, except for cell phone providers with cell numbers seems that RNk is it for land/voip numbers.

ipcom said...

Posted by: Moshe Maeir

Simon : "If RNK is exactly like Grand Central, I can see a suit coming real soon..."

what are they going to sue them for? Grand Central did not invent anything, "one number", "unified messaging" etc. have been around for years. What they did was to offer a very nice implementation for the consumer. No new technology here. Just a smart interface and good PR. GC did a great job of commercializing existing technology.
Contrary to your beliefs GC like most VoiP companies are not phone companies in the traditional sense and they rent their numbers from aggregators like Level 3 and Broadwing who in turn get them local companies around the country. Of course they could become a CLEC eventually, though I don't see why they would want the hassle.

ipcom said...

Posted by: Ken Thomas

Grand Central is planning number portability after their beta.

I for one trust Google a lot more than a random CLEC. And certainly Google could purchase a CLEC if necessary.

What they would sue for, obviously, would be patent infringement.