VOIP is Dead; Long Live VOIP
The vision of VOIP as a free, Internet-based application is dead, but I believe that unified communications will drive VOIP innovation moving forward.
"VOIP is DEAD" rang out from the blogosphere shortly before the clock struck midnight on December 31st, signaling the end of one year and the start of another. The call was led by Alec Saunders and Om Malik arguing that VOIP as a vision of radically transforming communications is dead, that instead we've basically replaced the PSTN with an IP-based clone. (See more reaction on my fellow VoiceCon panelist Dan York's blog here).So is VOIP dead, merely asleep, or as the line from Monty Python's Holy Grail goes, "feeling better"?
It's worth noting that most of these memes have looked at VOIP solely from the consumer perspective. When VOIP services began to emerge a few years ago we saw a variety of visions emerge. One proclaimed that voice would ride for free over the Internet, using the Internet model of a dumb network with smart end-points (the exact opposite of the PSTN with its SS7-based signaling and control). All we really needed was a directory of endpoints and people could begin making calls to each other for free. We also saw the rise of VOIP 2.0 through services such as Grandcentral, Iotum's relevance engine, JahJah, Truphone, and several other services that merged the web with voice systems, providing new application services.
So where are we today? VOIP has become mainstream. Service providers are moving their TDM-based infrastructures to IP. More and more consumers are taking advantage of VOIP services such as overlay providers like Vonage, or through bundled services from their cable or fiber providers. On the enterprise front, Nemertes noted earlier this year that 99.1% of enterprise IT architects participating in our recent Unified Communications and Collaboration benchmark were on their way to deploying VOIP as a replacement for their existing TDM phone systems, or for new installations.
So by the measure of VOIP adoption, it's hardly dead. In fact it feels much better. But when you look at the original vision many had for VOIP, it is true that for the most part, we've simply replaced the PSTN with a VOIP-based equivalent that looks very much like what we had. Services such as FreeWorld Dialup and Gizmo, promising free VOIP calls anywhere, have largely failed to achieve mainstream adoption. Skype on the other hand has garnered millions of users, but its closed architecture goes against the vision of VOIP based on the Internet architectural model. Even today, most VOIP users still dial traditional phone numbers using traditional phones without any interaction between their computing, mobile and home phone services. As a Verizon Voicewing user, for example, I still don't have the ability to click-to-call from a web browser or my address book through the Voicewing service. As more people abandon traditional voice systems and rely on their mobile phones, we see the economic opportunities to innovate around voice shrinking for overlay or bundled providers, but perhaps expanding for those offering VOIP via mobile devices. (But then again, the rise of all-you-can-drink mobile plans mean that that the opportunity for a Vonage-like service for mobile phones is dwindling).
On the enterprise front the news is a bit better. SIP trunking is growing in adoption, mostly to cut PSTN access costs, but also to take advantage of virtual phone numbers and intelligent call routing. Interest in, and deployments of unified communications, integrating voice, presence, messaging, and video continue to grow. Communications-enabled business processes, tying together communications and business process applications are gaining interest from IT architects and line-of-business managers looking to reduce costs and improve services.
So is VOIP dead? I'd argue no. Yes, the vision of VOIP as a free, Internet-based application is dead, but I believe that unified communications will drive VOIP innovation moving forward. It's odd that unlike most technologies, UC adoption in the business sector may drive interest in the consumer market.The vision of VOIP as a free, Internet-based application is dead, but I believe that unified communications will drive VOIP innovation moving forward.