Having numerous connected devices is supposed to simplify life, but too often it has the opposite effect. But now AT&T said it has a way to make things easier by enabling someone to use the same phone number for all connected devices. The new service, called NumberSync, lets each subscriber assign a primary phone number to wearables and other devices via AT&T’s network.
The new service should enable users to make and receive calls and text messages from all their devices, including tablets and smart watches — even when they’re not within close range of the users’ phones. That means those other devices can take the place of users’ phones, for example, when they just want to wear smart watches and not have to carry their phones as well. Also, when users call family, friends, and colleagues, those people will recognize the users’ phone numbers no matter what devices the callers are using.
We reached out to Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, who told us the feature should help AT&T as well as users.
“This feature, I think, could be something that accelerates the use of tablets and wearables on AT&T’s network,” said Moorhead. “It enables a tablet or wearable to receive texts and calls from their primary smartphone versus needing a separate number for the device. I’m really excited by this.”
By going beyond a legacy numbering system to help subscribers make use of the Internet of Things, NumberSync could be useful in a variety of circumstances, such as when users forget their phones at home but are carrying other devices. Also, not having to rely on Bluetooth pairing to make calls will likely prove beneficial to many users.
By having a single user identity for all of a subscriber’s devices, NumberSync could make essential services such as Short Message Service and cell calls easier to use and less locked in to the devices making them. As part of an ongoing revamping of its services, AT&T is also expanding voice calls to Wi-Fi.
Cell Signal Needed
A possible downside? NumberSync isn’t completely novel. Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger can perform many of the same functions over any Internet connection without the need for phone numbers. “It does require the smartphone to support VoLTE (Voice-Over LTE, the standard for communicating over 4G LTE networks),” Moorhead noted.
For AT&T, NumberSync will probably be most useful when users out of Wi-Fi range must rely on cellular networks to connect. AT&T doesn’t charge subscribers to connect smart watches or in-car hands-free systems to phones over Bluetooth, but it does charge for connecting an additional device to its own network, even if it’s using the same phone number.
AT&T didn’t give a date for rolling out NumberSync, but the company did say it is working with manufacturers to have the service included in upcoming devices. More NumberSync products should be released near the holiday season, the carrier said.