This week saw the news that Korea has signed up for what some claim to be the communications system of the future – ‘Enum’ as it’s been dubbed. Korea is believed to be the thirteenth country to have backed the system (which stands for ‘tElephone NUmber Mapping’), but as with any technology that appears simple, it could turn out to be far from straightforward to implement.
Assuming that the system gets through the quagmire of politics and takes off, what will Enum bring aside from another logistical headache for system administrators?
Enum is a simple and logical system that connects the system used for sending data over the Internet with the international telephone system. The Internet's DNS system links words with real Internet IP addresses. Enum does the same for elephone numbers and IP addresses.
If implemented, it will have three fundamental effects. First, it will reduce the ongoing arguments between different organisations and governments over how the Internet should proceed. Second, it will make IP telephony - where phone calls are sent via the Internet at cheaper rates – more viable. Third, and most tangible, it will enable people to have just a single assigned number through which they can do all their communicating, be that phone, email, fax or video.
The first point means that governments like Enum, the second point endears it to companies, while the third point makes it appealing to the average user.
Standing in their way are certain Internet companies and organisations with a barricade of self-interest (Enum would almost inevitably mean a shift away from the flawed model of Internet governance that currently exists in the form of ICANN), and privacy advocates.
Privacy advocates are extremely worried that with all of a person's contact details accessed through one number, commercial organisations will be even more desperate to get hold of it. Solutions to allow people to remain anonymous unless they give permission are viable but technically complex.
This means that while people and companies across the world are set to benefit from the uptake of such a model, much of the work will fall to system administrators.
Phone, fax and email will need to connect to one individual and one number. That number will need to be tied up in the network and would mean a radical overhaul of whatever existing system is in place. It is inevitable that each individual would be given some form of access to this setup in order to customise how they want to take their communications, adding further problems.
From the outside, one number would make everything simpler. But in a large businesses it makes the possibility of errors, and hence complaints, far higher. And while sysadmins are adept are getting people onto networks from machines dotted about the building, the phone system has always tended to be autonomous.
A single point of contact is also a single point of failure and a complete communications failure will have some very angry employees on the phone to support immediately. Then, of course, there is the issue of people working outside the office, making security harder to provide yet more important than ever.
But sold on the dream of thousands of pounds a month saved on phone calls and spouting about synergies and improved efficiency, sysadmins can be certain that management will expect a fast roll-out of Enum once it makes it beyond all the current hurdles.
As ever, it will be a thankless, stressful job.