VOIP – Road closed ahead

January 20, 2005

VoIP appears to have officially become boring and tired.


First we have the Phone-over-IP players. Vonage is the legitimate pioneer here, but now we have dozens of me-too players. I won’t name them. You know who they are. They all represent themselves as revolutionary, disruptive forces. Well, let’s see. So we give them a solid chunk of our Internet pipe, pay them for the privilege, and get back in return an analog copper pair of wires, to which we can connect a 1970’s phone and it will work, almost as good as it did in the 70’s even. I guess in a P.T. Barnum sort of way, it is pretty revolutionary.

As far as I see it, the primary difference between POIP and 1904 telephony is that we send our check to a different address.

A more disruptive option

So if it’s a truely different model we want, we are left with Skype. I have spoken before of the dangers of the proprietary route, but it is important enough to mention again. By using Skype we are granting a monopoly to a commercial entity, an entity that has not shown us they will serve us well by its possesion. In fact, there is a history of some contempt for users.

All that said, given that Skype is the only true alternative to another 100 years of 1904 telephony, I’m almost forced to become a Skype advocate. That’s a sorry state.

TMC VoIP Conference

As more proof of just how boring VoIP has become, check out a few of the featured agenda topics for the Telephony Conference & Expo scheduled for next month in Miami:

  • VoIP Peering
  • Regulation & Taxation
  • E-911
  • UNE-P to VoIP
  • Session Border Controllers

The telcos and cablecos should be enjoying a sigh of relief that the would-be disrupters are drowning in these turgid waters already. At this rate, VoIP should reach a telco-like cost structure in no time.

UPDATE: Additional comments on this topic

7 Responses to VOIP – Road closed ahead

  1. January 21, 2005 at 5:55 am

    Interestingly, probably at the time you were posting this I was adding a similar piece to my blog:

    "So what’s been holding me from adopting Skype? Skype is a proprietary solution. Users are escaping from the prison of the POTS only to jump into the walled garden of Skype…"

  2. January 21, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    Absolutely Right!,

    I agree .. even if I’m one of the founders of a 5 years old, really pioneer ITSP in Spain.

    Sure, someone has to re-invent voice conversations in the Internet era, the rest are just copying.

    Amazon doesn’t re-invent the book, just sell them online, we are just selling calls online, no more fancy.

    Do we need Tim Berners II to invent another paradigm?

    Meanwhile, don’t sweat, it’s little more than just call cheaper!

  3. January 23, 2005 at 3:45 pm

    I’m in violent agreement as well. I’ve been a skeptic about VoIP for close to a decade. Yes, I am a user and a Vonage customer, but the value proposition for Vonage is the price and the bundle. It’s not as if the services in the bundle haven’t been available on POTS for a very long time. And I’d argue that UltraForward still works better on POTS than VoIP.

    In the mobile space where I’ve been working recently, there’s a lot of talk about doing VoIP on a cell phone over 802.11 – part of the idea is to either provide a network connection at a lower cost than cellular or to provide connectivity where signal is poor (e.g. in an office park).

    In the end, cellular VoIP over 802.11 is just cellular telephony that – when it works as planned – is as seamless as roaming from one cell site to another. The signal issues can also be resolved with traditional network engineering and bi-directional amplifiers. But RF isn’t IP and will never get the same type of hype in the press.

    So much for the better mousetrap.

  4. January 23, 2005 at 4:02 pm

    Don’t get me wrong. I haven;t given up on VoIP’s ultimate potential (yet), but I certainly don’t think the direction things are going takes us there.

    There is still room for something disruptive, but I’d argue we haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps Skype, or something like it, evolves into it.

    It’s quite clear to me that Vonage and the rest of the POIP herd don’t represent it.

    If the current choices and direction are all we’re going to get, well shame on us for letting it happen.

  5. January 23, 2005 at 10:20 pm

    any chance SIP, which ought to be about more than just voice, will make things more exciting?

  6. N Ahuja
    January 24, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    I think that

  7. January 24, 2005 at 3:33 pm

    Could not agree more David.

    We are looking at the old tug-of-war between open standards advocates and monopoly builders, where corporations are trying to lock unwary consumers into their walled-garden, proprietary systems. PoIP, though today mostly based on the revolutionary SIP, is a good example of this, Skype is another.

    What we need is a change in mindset, away from phone numbers, towards SIP URI’s. The phone number "namespace" is controlled by the phone companies, whereas domain names are for anyone to get and "own".

    This will eventually crack up the retro PSTN-emulations, and unveil them as what they are, merely incremental rather then revolutionary.

    What IMHO is needed are:

    1) a good open source pure SIP client app, supporting voice, video and the SIP based IM standards SIMPLE + XCAP + MSRP. It should support ICE, so that NAT traversal becomes a non-issue. And of course it should be "easy to use". Of course we also need the server counterpart; iptel.org’s SER is pretty close, lacking the IM aspect AFAIK.

    2) hardware clients that support URI dialing. This pretty much rules out all forms of ATAs. Ideally, a combined GSM/UMTS/WiFi phone, with 802.1x support (roaming authentication). Let’s see if the UMTS/3GPP incorporation of SIP in the IMS ever bears any fruit, other then being a closed system, used behind the scenes.

    P.S. Chris Holland, congratulations, you are "getting it" 🙂

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