In about a decade, VoIP has gone from a hobby for geeks to a widely used platform that is in the process of replacing circuit switched service. It has become so pervasive that the less initiated may not even realize they are using VoIP when they make a call.
It is not just that its use has grown. VoIP also has moved from being a pure voice replacement to being a value-added proposition by seamlessly integrating voice, video and data. And it’s not just for PCs and Macs—the revolution in technology has democratized the sophisticated platforms and made them viable to consumers on all of their devices. While business-oriented VoIP platforms do exist in the form of the voice element of unified communications (UC), the technology generally straddles the line between corporate and consumer use.
Tom’s Hardware offers a slideshow on what it considers to be the best VoIP apps, which include Skype, Google Voice & Google+ Hangouts, ooVoo, Viber, Ekiga, Jitsi, MicroSIP, Ventrilo, TeamSpeak 3 and Mumble. Consumer Electronics Net weighed in with its choices of top providers: VOIPro, Jive, Vocalocity, 8×8 and ITP (Internet Telephone Provider).
The move to VoIP shows no signs of abating. In fact, it is accelerating; Infonetics Research said that the VoIP and Internet Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) market grew 30 percent in the second quarter compared to the first. It topped out at $936 million worldwide. IMS reports that all of the major geographic regions posted gains.
It’s not surprising that such a broad market is segmented. Tom’s Hardware looked at consumer apps, while Consumer Electronics Net looked at residential providers and their offerings. The other major category is UC, which surrounds the basic UC platform with myriad other features.
Chris Thorson, the director of marketing for Polycom, shed some light on the progress being made in that category in an interview with Network World’s Larry Hettick. Thorson told Hettick that cloud-based VoIP — also called hosted VoIP — has a year-over-year growth rate of almost 30 percent. Much of that growth is in the small- and medium-size business (SMB) sector. This sector, he said, is set for sustained growth:
Thorson is bullish on growth opportunities since the life cycle for an average PBX is, in his observation 5 to 7 years, and the last major overhaul for most PBXs was ‘in response to the Y2K factor,’ with replacements for these systems mitigated by a the global recession over the last few years.
It is difficult to directly assess the growth of VoIP because it is offered in different ways. In many of these, it is an element of a more extensive set of services. Despite this fuzziness, it is safe to say two things still are expanding: the use of the technology by business and residential customers and the creativity of those creating the platforms and services.