The idea behind Digits, which launched its beta on Wednesday, is simple: tying all of your connected devices to a single phone number. When enabled on an eligible T-Mobile plan, Digits works across your smartphones, feature phones, tablets, computers, and wearable devices to deliver simultaneous messages, calls, and notifications. When someone rings your Digits number, you will be alerted to the call on all of your attached devices.
It gets better. From any tablet, smartphone, wearable, or otherwise associated with your Digits account, you can make and take calls and send and receive text messages. Rich text messaging, the cellular standard that supports photo and video messaging, read receipts, and location sharing, is in tow. And dedicated Digits dashboard provides access to your call history, messages, and voicemail.
In addition, Digits includes a complimentary service that puts multiple numbers on a single device. You can switch between them “seamlessly,” T-Mobile said, and without the need to carry multiple devices. “More than 30 million Americans carry multiple devices [and pay for] two plans, a practice that costs U.S. wireless customers an extra $10 billion every year,” T-Mobile said. “You’ll never have to compromise your security by giving out your personal number because you can use an extra set of Digits any time you don’t want to give out your primary phone number.
If the conceit of Digits — a phone number shared across multiple devices — sounds familiar, that is because it has been around for a while. Google Voice, Google’s eponymous call service, allows you to forward phone calls through a single number to multiple devices. AT&T’s NumberSync offers unified messaging and calling across supported devices.
But T-Mobile contends that Digits, which it describes as the product of “years” of research and development, goes much further. Unlike most unified number services, which rely on Internet-based voice delivery, calls placed through Digits tap T-Mobile’s cellular network. In collaboration with telecom equipment provider Ericsson, the carrier engineered new, patent-pending network-level technologies that authenticate customers through Digits instead of individual SIM cards.
The end result? Digits delivers “carrier-grade” calling, prioritizing calls over data to ensure “reliability” and “crystal clear HD voice quality.” And when someone calls you, they will reach you “regardless of the device you have in your hand.”
T-Mobile worked with Samsung to implement native Digits support. The Seoul, South Korea-based company’s built Digits into the Note 5 and Galaxy S6’s software. Once you activate a Digits phone number, you will be able to choose it in the smartphone’s dialer.
“Our team dug deep into the technology needed to free us from the one number, one phone limit. And to do it right, we built a solution into the core of our network that breaks all the old telco rules,” T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said in a press release. “To the carriers — and their telecom model — you’re just a SIM and a piece of hardware. With Digits, it’s all about you communicating the way you want. This opens up a new world of possibilities.”
Despite all that technology, though, Digits isn’t without a major shortcoming — it’s not compatible with Apple’s iMessage platform. T-Mobile is encouraging beta participants to switch it off for the “smoothest experience,” for now.
Apps for non-native Digits devices are available on Apple’s App Store for iOS devices, the Google Play Store for Android devices, and via web browsers on PC and Mac computers. It is compatible with Android devices running Android 5.0 and newer, iPhone and iPads running iOS 9.0 and newer, and Mac and Windows devices running Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.
It is in limited beta, which T-Mobile said marks the first time a carrier has debuted a new technology through a beta program. Digits remain free for the duration of the testing period ahead of a commercial launch in 2017 — T-Mobile has yet to announce pricing, but said it will be “competitive.”
Customers on T-Mobile’s postpaid Simple Choice and T-Mobile One individual and family accounts are eligible to register. A dedicated support team will help provision devices.