VoIP Changes Everything

Carl Weinschenk

On the last day of the 2009-Y2K+10 Eve-it is appropriate to look back at the massive communications transformation that occurred during the first decade of the 21st century.

Ten years ago today, virtually everyone got traditional telephone services-time-division multiplexed services (TDM) from the incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs). While the ILECs still are massive and powerful, their initial core technology is winding down as they struggle to adjust to an IP world. In this world, not everyone is equal -- but they are a whole lot more equal than in the past.

The state of things is nicely summarized by Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOm. She focuses in on a filing made to the Federal Communications Commission by AT&T in response to a request for comments on how to transition from a cricuit switched to an all-IP network. In its filing, AT&T asks for relief from the requirement that it support plain old telephone Service (POTS), and asks for a date when it will be relieved from the burden.

One complication, Higginbotham writes, is that AT&T doesn't offer suggestions for handling the folks who still rely on the antiquated technology, which she says is almost 20 percent of the population. The piece offers four bullet points from the filing which, apparently, offer statistics that cover the entire industry, not just AT&T's slice of it. The inescapable conclusion is that the old network is sinking about as fast as Tiger Woods' image.

Gary Kim doesn't seem to contest IBISWorld's conclusion that VoIP was the "industry of the decade" and even that it likely will repeat as champion in the 10-year stretch we enter at midnight. He does note, however, that IBISWorld bases its growth estimates on percentages, not raw numbers. So, while VoIP's 10-year growth of 1,655 percent is impressive, it is based on a zero growth figure as late as 2002, so the bloom is a bit off the statistical rose. His other critique is that the percentages will be a bit skewed because the definition of VoIP changes over time, rendering any precise measure inaccurate.


The morphing nature of VoIP and its ability to grow in two ways-from deeper penetration within established categories and by, as Kim points out, broadening into new areas -- is well documented. It suggests another type of transition, one that also is well under way. While VoIP during the coming years will continue to refer to a specific technology, the term also increasingly will be used as an informal shorthand for the vast array of services and applications that it supports. Regardless, it is clear that the first decade of the 21st century was the time that VoIP took over.

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