There are a lot of interesting tidbits in this Ars Technica story, which focuses on Deutsche Telekom's investment in VoIP provider Jajah.
For one thing, the fact that the German phone company is the parent company of T-Mobile raises all sorts of intriguing questions about the competition between VoIP and traditional carriers in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The piece also offers a nicely done explanation of how Jajah works. It's quite clever. A consumer or business user dials both their number and the number being called. The phone rings in both places. Once the two parties are on the line, the call is routed through Jajah's infrastructure, which uses the Internet to complete the call. The service is in essence using the public switched telephone network (PSTN) as a signaling system to enable its Internet-based service to marry two local calls without incurring long distance charges.
The fact that Deutsche Telecom is investing in Jajah is significant. Of course, it would be even more intriguing if the investor was a wireline phone company. The reality simply is that nobody knows which model, or models, will eventually catch the public's eye and that this causes a lot of money to be tossed around. DT isn't the only big player that has backed Jajah, though the story says that it is the first carrier. The piece also points out that Intel recently invested in the company.
We are reluctant to quibble with money from a source as smart as DT and Intel. However, the models that seem to us likely to have the most staying power aren't those that come up with a clever way of beating the system as it exists today, since the current system is changing as fast as a fragile shoreline during a storm. In the long run, the models with the most upside are those with the strongest infrastructures (i.e., back offices and customer service) and the ability to bundle services together into triple plays and grand slams.
This is why cable operators and the telephone companies have the advantage. Companies that are basing their future on the ability to provide extremely low cost telephone calls are being illogical: Since the cost of calls is next to nothing, the value of what they are offering can be easily replaced. The true value comes in fitting this commoditized offering into a bigger framework and using it to enhance the overall value of what is being offered. This integrated service can't easily be replicated and, therefore, has value.
We certainly aren't suggesting that Jajah isn't a solid idea or that we know better about investing than Intel or DT. The point, however, is that voice services are most valuable when they are deeply enmeshed in a strong menu of consumer- and business-oriented data services.