[IANAtransition] Control, co-ordination, and interop (was Re: [IANAxfer] ] ICANN proposal released)

Richard Hill rhill at hill-a.ch
Sat Apr 12 13:12:07 UTC 2014

Dear Patrik,

Thank you for your good comments. I don't mind teasing: it is a form of
humor and humor can be helpful when having complicated discussions.

E.164 does specify "00" as the international dialling prefix, but for
historical reasons that would be hard to implement in the USA.  A more
serious issue is the great diversity of emergency number codes.  ITU has
recommended that all countries implement 911 and 112 in addition to whatever
code they have used historically.  Again, these are examples of the
relatively weak level of harmonisation/centralization or whatever you want
to call it of the telephone system at the logical level.

I don't think that I ever said that the telephony system is better.  I have
often said that each system has its advantages and disadvantages.

Before describing the advantages of the telephone system, I'd like to
outline a bit more of the disadvantages, which are bigger than just the bugs
mentioned by Patrik below.

Since operators have to code country codes manually, they tend not to code
them unless the expected revenue exceeds the cost.  So some operators don't
code some country codes.  A few years ago, when I was still at ITU, I took a
call from a person in the US State Department who was unable to call East
Timor because the operators that supplied telephone services to that bit of
the US government hand not implemented the (then relatively new) code for
East Timor.

And if something goes drastically wrong, manual fixes can be hard to put
into place.  In 2000, I was the operations manager for Orange Switzerland,
which was at the time an independent mobile operator.  We had our own SS7
system for Switzerland, but used Swisscom for international connections (in
case people don't know, one of the things that SS7 does is equivalent to one
of the things that the DNS does: it maps telephone numbers (which are names)
onto telephone addresses (in this case E.212 IMSIs)).

The SS7 systems are fail-safe, fully redundant, etc. etc. But, as most
people on this list surely know, software is often a single point of failure
even in such systems.  Sure enough, one day there was a problem with a
software update of the Swisscom SS7 system, so we, Orange, lost
international connectivity.  All of the Orange managers senior to me were
out of the country, so I was stuck with the responsibility of coping with
the crisis: our customers could not dial internationally.

So I did what all managers do, I called a meeting.  (Fortunately for my
staff, at that time I still had enough technical knowledge that they were
not the only experts in the meeting - if you have not seen it and would like
a good laugh, take a look at:

eing-the-only-engineer-in-a-business-meeting/ )

It turned out that it would have taken us over 1 day to reconfigure our
system to use an alternate SS7 service.  So I decided to wait, which turned
out to be the right decision, because the Swisscom problem was fixed in
about the same amount of time.

Contrast that to the automation of the DNS.

But the telephone model does have an advantage: it allows pragmatic
solutions to be put into place even in the absence of global agreement.  I
will describe here the Taiwan situation, but similar situations exist, and
not just for Kosovo.  In the case of Taiwan, the ITU could not assign a
country code because there is no global agreement to the effect that Taiwan
is a "country" in the sense used by the relevant ITU-T Recommendation.  So
the operator in Taiwan decided to use an unassigned code and informed other
operators of this.  Other operators agreed to use the unassigned code, so
there was, de facto, a country code for Taiwan even though the ITU had not,
at that time, published a code for Taiwan.

That is, not forcing alignment with the official published list of codes
avoids having to try to resolve essentially unresovable problems at the
global level.  And, as I said, Taiwan is not an isolated case.  Similar
situations occur in many geographically disputed areas.


PS: if anybody wants more humor, I know a great joke about the difference
between managers, engineers, and IT specialists.

-----Original Message-----
From: Patrik Faltstrom [mailto:paf at frobbit.se]
Sent: samedi, 12. avril 2014 11:22
To: Vint Cerf
Cc: rhill at hill-a.ch; ianatransition at icann.org
Subject: Re: [IANAtransition] Control, co-ordination, and interop (was Re:
[IANAxfer] ] ICANN proposal released)

On 12 apr 2014, at 10:56, Vint Cerf <vint at google.com> wrote:

I am surprised to learn, however, that one can dial a number from country  X
and get a different result when dialing the same number from country Y.

Normally only the country codes differ, and the number of differences have
drastically gone down when the iron curtain did fall down.

There are some known issues, but not more complicated or surprising than
known blocking of Internet traffic.

As Richard wrote, there is consensus, I claim, that this is a bug, and that
one should reach the same destination regardless of from where one uses a

That said, one of my largest issues with telephony is that one have not
agreed on one and only one standard for _dialing_. Say you want to dial me
from the US, you then have to dial different numbers than from what you have
to dial when you are in Germany. Yes, I am thinking on how '+' is
implemented. And many other things.

A big fail for global E.164 I think.

Think if we had those problems on the Internet. "Yes, that is my IP address,
but if you use it in that AS number you have to use this prefix to reach

We had that situation with UUCP email addresses, but we quickly abandoned
that. That is one of the main reasons to me Internet is so successful.

URLs work wherever you want to use them.

For dialed telephone numbers not so much.

So, once again, did I hear telephony had a better system? ;-)

Yes Richard, I am teasing you a bit, and you and I have talked enough about
this so far and I am happy to talk more with you about it when we meet.


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