The Rise of Numeric Domains

With more than 4 billion cell phones in use worldwide — 487 million in China alone — it’s no wonder that “mobile” is all the rage.

A recent segment of “American Idol” received nearly 80 million text message votes. The 2008 U.S. presidential candidates are incorporating mobile communications elements into their campaigns. Social networks such as MySpace and Twitter are starting to deploy mobile-friendly Web sites. Most mobile access is achieved via traditional methods such as wireless carrier “walled garden” decks, short codes, text messaging and often lengthy, convoluted sub-domains.

It begs the question: Is there a simpler, perhaps more powerful mobile access and branding tool that has largely gone unnoticed?

The Internet and the cell phone are colliding as the media evolve to satisfy our need to socialize and to share information. Personalized mobility will become the norm. If people are going to access Web sites via cell phones, why not make it easy by using numbers instead of letters?

Numeric Domains 101

On billions of cell phones worldwide, the dial pad numbers 2 through 9 can represent letters of the alphabet. The numeral 2 can represent “a,” “b” or “c.” The “7” button can represent “p,” “q,” “r” or “s,” etc.

Therefore, any string of numbers can represent multiple alpha equivalents. The numbers 3776 can represent 144 alpha combinations (3 can represent d, e or f; 7 can represent p, q, r or s; 6 can represent m, n or o). The numbers 3776 could represent “Esso;” it could also represent “ESPN” or 142 other unique alpha combinations.

On your cell phone WAP (wireless application protocol) browser, entering a numeric string and adding “.com” creates a numeric domain.

Until the domain is specifically purposed, it’s just that — a string of numbers, no trademark issues and no squatting issues.

Organizations incorporate numeric domains into their overall marketing mix depending on their respective goals and strategies:

  • The numeric domain is the brand. Some of the world’s most popular Web sites use numeric-domains as their primary Web sites, including,, and

    Numeric domains can be the brand or help to strengthen the brand. The numeric feature can clearly indicate that the WAP site has been specifically formatted for optimum viewing and navigation on cell phones.

  • Simple input. It’s much easier to enter 3776 (.com) — four input clicks — than it is to enter a lengthy sub-domain required to get to the same Web site such as mobileapp.espn.go (.com), requiring 32 input clicks.

    Numeric-domains reduce keypad input clicks, thereby reducing input error, frustration and abandonment. Numeric-domains are handheld device, wireless carrier, language and location agnostic.

  • Reduce dependency on wireless carrier “decks.” Wireless carriers offer premium content (ringtones, music, etc.) to their customers via “on-deck” portals, or “walled gardens.” Content providers typically pay dearly to list and sell their content on-deck, yet have little influence over location, positioning and the amount of promotion done by the carrier.

    Numeric domains allow content providers a direct link to their customers and full control of and responsibility for the user experience.

  • Exert more consumer influence. Wireless carriers play a crucial role in the wireless Internet ecosystem. However, the growing migration of content owners bypassing wireless carriers’ expensive billing costs to deliver content direct to consumer is rampant.

    Numeric domains enable direct-to-consumer access and a wide variety of payment options.

  • Short code avoidance, direct-to-consumer delivery. Carrier-controlled short codes are not owned by the content providers. Codes are rented on a monthly basis, can take months to secure and typically are used only for short “campaign” durations.

    Organizations that own their numeric domain enjoy longer lead times for planning campaigns and can associate the numeric domain with, and strengthen, their brand.

  • Short codes restrictions. Short codes are geographically restricted to the reach of the carrier network. This is usually not a problem for local or regional campaigns. However, for international campaigns, companies need to schedule, manage and pay for multiple short codes.

    Numeric domains are equal in the entire global community. The code 3776 is the same in Beijing, Boston or Bali. This ensures that anyone anywhere on the planet with a WAP browser and network access can reach your Web anytime, day or night.

Why are numeric domains only surfacing now? Perhaps for a number of reasons — fear of the unknown, early-adopter reluctance and the evolving technical expertise to deliver a “beyond expectations” mobile user experience.

The “wireless” Internet is in its embryonic stages. Access methods such as short codes and text messaging were designed and developed by the carriers and touted by the service providers and/or aggregators. Not surprisingly, each step incorporated substantial profit centers for the emerging cabals. Want a short code? Want to send a text message? Want your content delivered to wireless subscribers? Want that application preloaded on these phones? If so, you’re forced to pay the piper.

A Place in the Ecosystem

Major brands that could afford the higher costs often followed the advice of ad agencies and aggregators. Wireless is new. How do we get into the game and measure results? What will it cost?

The answers, and the solutions, were proffered and spoon-fed by the aggregators, ad agencies and the carriers. With substantial mass-media advertising, the result became the accepted way to communicate a message, engage the consumer and to sell a product or service.

The industry is maturing and there are alternatives available that many people may not be aware of. However, if embraced and employed, these new tools could dramatically improve on current industry practices.

Will numeric domains find a prominent place in the wireless ecosystem? It would seem so. Reported sales of numeric-domains have exploded recently. just sold for US$100,000, sold for $75,000, and dozens of others have traded for over $100,000 in private sales.

Many companies are learning the value, ease of use and versatility numeric domains. As more and more Web and WAP sites — such as the recently launched and the heavily venture capital-backed jump into the fray, it would appear that the numbers are heating up.

Have you got your number?

Scott Smith is president and CEO of ArcNum and cochairs the off-portal committee for the Mobile Marketing Association.


  • I have used a numeric domain for years,, selling military insignia and mainly aviation insignia. Why 1903, it was the first year of the Wright Brothers flight. What I have found is that my customers remember the site name for two resaons, one its short, two we remind them of what happend in 1903. Lets face it it is a lot easier to remember 1903 than Aviationwings or militaryinsignia.

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