When WiFi was in its infancy, plenty of people thought they could make money from selling access at hotspots. In time, plenty of people figured out they had more to gain from offering free WiFi to their customers than from selling access, and the resultant spread of free hotspots hit the paid-access business hard, leaving only a few big players whose real success at selling access remains unclear. So who's ended up really making money from WiFi? Equipment manufacturers and chipset vendors, not service providers, and now Om Malik wonders if the VoIP market will play out the same way. The cost of basic voice service is quickly trending towards zero, while VoIP providers like Vonage and Skype are already having trouble making money. Malik sees a bright future for the makers of products like VoIP handsets, that let users make VoIP calls over WiFi, or without a PC, or even just PC headset manufacturers. It seems inevitable that the cost of voice will continue to fall, and be free in most cases as it gets bundled with other services, whether it's broadband access or mobile phone service, but as cost falls and uptake increases, so too will the need for VoIP hardware, whether that's phone adapters in cable modems or WiFi chips in mobile phones. Given those characteristics, it looks like VoIP could mimic the WiFi market and deliver the real returns to equipment vendors, not service providers -- but those returns could be hit even further since unlike WiFi, VoIP is simply a software application running on top of network connectivity.
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