VoIP: Far from Dead, but Not Making Much Noise


I was a bit confused by the beginning of Steve Taylor's Network World column in which he said that some people are suggesting that "VoIP is dead." I've not heard that-perhaps I'm not as tuned in as he is-nor think that it's possible to kill something that has become so enmeshed and ingrained in the way networks run.


Actually, Taylor simply was commenting on the lighter buzz that VoIP is getting. Fair enough. The strength of the piece, however, is his rundown of what is going on.


Taylor says VoIP is not getting the hype because it has become an element of unified communications, which is getting the attention. He says the health of VoIP can be seen in the fact that cable operators are continuing to take market share away from traditional telcos. The final piece of evidence that VoIP is still alive and well is that it is being coopted by legacy service providers such as AT&T, Clearwire (which is co-owned by Sprint Nextel) and Verizon.


The current status of VoIP must be considered within the context of what is going on at Verizon. Unfortunately, nobody is quite sure what that is right now. Last week, the Los Angeles Times ran a Bloomberg News report which said the carrier will move entirely to VoIP in seven years. I included the news in a post.


This week, Verizon told xchange magazine that the report was mistaken. The company acknowledge, however, that VoIP will for the first time be included in FiOS. There always are several ways to interpret such back and forth: The reporter did make a mistake or the organization said what the reporter reported but thought better of letting the cat out of the bag and thus attacked the messenger. The third and least likely option is that the company wanted the news out there, but aloso wanted to confuse the issue. It would do this by denying the report-but leaving the impression that that is the way in which it is heading. Time will tell which of these (or what fourth option) is the reality.


What Taylor may be perceiving may just be the maturation of the category. In this small business column, James Gaskin suggests that people aren't talking about VoIP anymore simply because they either fully understand that phone calls are digitized and go over the Internet or don't care. For this reason, it is a mistake for vendors and service providers to keep using the term. In the final analysis, phone service is phone service, whether it is circuit switched, VoIP, wireless, cellular or any combination of the four. The smart companies aren't moving away from VoIP as much as moving away from talking about it.


Any buzz that VoIP is getting or missing will be impacted by the financial situation under which we all are laboring. Weakness in the VoIP category-real or imagined-likely will become more pronounced over the coming months. This column suggests that the economy will force companies that have not started on a changeover to VoIP to put it off for at least a year. The good news is that companies that began the transition last year or earlier are likely to continue, since the infrastructure investment already has been made.


It doesn't take a degree from Wharton to figure out that the economy will determine what lies ahead for VoIP this year. VoIP-News offers eight trends that it feels will impact VoIP during 2009. This post, after the gloom and doom that is de rigueur in any story not about the four teams left in the NFL playoffs, offers a subtly upbeat assessment. While times are far from good, there is movement and VoIP will continue to evolve to fill more niches and satisfy more end users.


The writer says that the shakeout among low-cost VoIP providers will continue; that companies predicated on single features will struggle; that voice and data services will be more tightly integrated than ever; that voice-to-text will continue to grow; and that VoIP providers will continue to emulate legacy services for folks who have trouble with change. He says that high-definition voice will be a big selling point; that the integration of IP PBXes, call centers and CRM will continue; and that mobile VoIP will grow.


The bottom line is that VoIP is far from dead. It is, however, moving to the back burner.