Perhaps a future Ph.D. candidate will write a dissertation tracking the evolution of VoIP. If he or she does, 2007 may be seen as a pivotal year during which the providers began to build upon initial gains.
A lot of press has been generated by Verizon's victory over Vonage in a patent infringement suit. While there is no way to spin this as anything but bad news for Vonage, it is unlikely that the decision will slow the growth of VoIP itself. If anything, it will realign the pecking order -- perhaps providing the telcos with more power and accelerating the decline of the standalone VoIP companies that already were under stress.
That Ph.D. candidate will see that in 2007, several other significant events occurred. In general, VoIP offered by cable television operators is having a fine time. More specific news came this week from two powerful companies, Wal-Mart and Microsoft.
Wal-Mart announced that it is rolling out Skype sections in 1,800 stores across the country. The new departments will sell pre-paid Skype cards and Skype-certified gear from Plantronics, Philips and Logitech. CRN has a good rundown of the news.
Not to be outdone, Microsoft said that several manufacturers are releasing a total of 15 devices that will work with Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007. The company, which made the announcement at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), is moving aggressively on its unified communications strategy. Though there are subtle differences between companies' definitions of UC, it generally refers to the ability to get a message to a recipient on a wide variety of platforms and devices.
The two announcements are only tangentially connected. After all, Wal-Mart is the king of the consumer world, and the Microsoft move is aimed at corporate uses. The thread, of course, is that VoIP and IP communications are the heart of both. The more intertwined Internet telephone services become with day-to day-tasks -- be they performed at the office or at home -- the clearer it becomes that the primacy of the traditional phone platform is fading, despite the subscriber lead that these services still hold.
The reality is that we may be moving from a phase in which customers use VoIP to cut costs on voice to a phase in which they add innovative features that just weren't feasible when voice and data rode different networks. This is the situation for which carriers have been pining. They bet that subscribers will pay more -- a lot more -- for these additional services. And that would certainly be something to write about.