AT&T, in another example of the legacy telephone companies' "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" strategy, has landed a contract to provide VoIP services to the architectural firm of Bucher, Willis & Ratliff. The deal, which covers a San Antonio headquarters and six offices across the country, includes networking and data services in addition to the voice application.
There is nothing terribly new in this. The telcos, including BellSouth, AT&T and Verizon, have been building their networks and landing VoIP deals for a long time.
The telcos seem to be methodically fighting out of the tight spot they found themselves in a few years ago. Originally dismissive of VoIP, they had to get into the game when they saw subscribers abandoning their legacy network. The bottom line was eminently practical: They would rather switch than fight.
There now are three major groups of VoIP players, each with its own advantages and drawbacks.
The pure plays -- Vonage, Skype and a menagerie of smaller players -- are totally dedicated to the business. That's very attractive to consumers and companies thinking of jumping on the VoIP bandwagon. It also tends to keep their rates down.
Cable operators are making a grand play into VoIP. It is, however, their third business after video and high-speed data. Thus, focus can be an issue.
Finally, the telcos are, well, the telcos -- with a lot of marketing money, a lot of existing subscribers, a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of regulatory hurdles, and a lot of ill will among customers.