When Do We Get The Third Stage Of VoIP?

from the it'll-come dept

Tom Evslin has a very interesting post looking back at the predictions he made keynoting Jeff Pulver’s VON conference ten years ago, and noticing that of his three stages of the VoIP adoption path, the third never happened. Evslin predicted that the first area of VoIP adoption would be the straight arbitrage play of offering cheaper calls on the backend, especially for international calls. That absolutely happened. The second stage of VoIP adoption would be to move the calls to the internet, rather than a separate IP network for VoIP calls. That also happened. The third stage, however, would be when VoIP offerings became more common because they allowed people to do things they simply could not do with the traditional POTS (plain old telephone system) offering. That’s always the definition of a true killer app. It’s not about moving one service from one system to another, or about just making something cheaper or better. It’s about enabling something that wasn’t even possible before. Yet, Evslin notes, this hasn’t really happened with VoIP. Instead, most VoIP plays are still quite similar to the telephone. Evslin thinks that, in retrospect, his mistake was in forgetting that the new VoIP offerings needed to remain backwards compatible with POTS, and that has limited the ability to really create new offerings.

Instead, he believes the real third stage of VoIP adoption will be to totally bypass POTS and make it obsolete. He notes that social networking communication systems are starting down that route, where there are many different ways of communicating — and voice will just slot right in as one of many modes of conversing (along with videos, text, pictures and other options). I’d argue that this isn’t that far off from his original vision — and he seems to downplay things like Skype, GizmoProject and Yahoo IM that really have started to allow people to do things that weren’t possible before, such as adding presence and mobility to VoIP, while still connecting back to the legacy POTS system. I’d also argue that a second issue holding back the adoption of cool new features and benefits from VoIP has been the ridiculous patent lawsuits from the incumbents, trying to halt any real innovation in the space to protect their cash cows. Perhaps Evslin’s right that the only way to get around these things is to leave POTS in the dust — but hopefully once the dust clears on these patent lawsuits, real innovation can start happening.

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Comments on “When Do We Get The Third Stage Of VoIP?”

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BillGod says:


Working for a Business class VOIP company. (dont worry you’ve never heard of us.) I can say that the 3rd step adoption is not going to happen for a while. Businesses are very eager to switch to VOIP to save $. The thing they cannot have is dropped calls. The current state of the internet is not ready to deliver VOIP to a business. We have many many different things that you can do with a phone call that you cannot do over a POTS line. But the risk of pissing off a customer out weighs the coolness factor. Imagine if you were a Dr’s office that just switched to VOIP. You pickup the phone to tell someone they have 2 months to live. In the middle of the conversation the call drops. Not a happy camper. For home use its fine. The average user does not make enough phone calls to risk dropping calls. But you take a business of even 10-15 people talking all day most of them will drop at least 1 call by the end of the day. Multiply that by 5 days a week. How long before they get pissed and rip the system out? I can’t say what we are trying to do to resolve the issue but I can say it’s not easy!

chris (profile) says:

three words: moves, adds, changes

you want to know “the” killer app for VOIP that you can’t do with POTS? it’s called moving, adding, and changing (MAC).

sure you can take your POTS phone number with you if you move around your local carrier’s geographic region, and it’s possible for your work phone to follow you around a PBX system with enough planning and careful execution, but just being able to pick up your phone and move somewhere else is why VOIP is the future.

get a VOIP phone of any kind, say at your home in florida, set it up and get it working, then move to california… or take it with you on vacation (say with a softphone program and a laptop). then, add a second or third line (say a local california number, or a business line). THEN change one of your numbers. being able to do that with an old fashioned phone would take some kind of a miracle.

talk to anyone who has worked in telecommunications and they will tell you that zero effort MAC is stuff that dreams are made of.

The Man says:

Because VOIP Sucks

There is not enough interest in VOIP to take it to the next level. The quality of calls has become a little better, but the anoying tale tale drop to silence like you are on a walkie talkie when on a VOIP call is very annoying.

VOIP is actually another area Mike should be all hot and bothered about like the recording industry. The main problem with the new VOIP phone services like Vonage that I see, is they are too closely trying to follow old school utility market practice. $30 a month unlimited calls of fair to crappy quality does not exite me. Give me a chance of free or near free with upgrade options and per use charge with a cap to lure me in. I can get crappy service for a fairly fixed price from AT&T, but have good sound quality and reliable service. A new business model making it benificial for a large group a people to use is the only way VOIP will move to the next level.

Mike has said it very often, people expect free on the Internet. You use VOIP on the Internet, so people already have a preconcived notion of what it should be. The VOIP company who can find a value add or the illusion of free, will fair the best.

Chris McDannold says:

Re: Because VOIP Sucks

You must have had an extremely bad experience with VoIP when you signed up for it. I have had Vonage for over 2 years, and I think it is great. Yeah, I had some issues with the first router they sent me, but it was because the router was crap rather than the service. With family all living on the East coast, VoIP makes my phone bill much more palatable. Sure, I could just use my cell phone, but if you want to talk about crappy quality, we should talk about mobile phone operators.

Jason Hobbs (profile) says:

[allow] “people to do things they simply could not do with the traditional POTS”

– When I have international virtual numbers that are local calls to natives of that area and free for me, I’m pretty sure that’s providing me service that I can’t do with traditional POTS. I mean, I’m sure if I worked with British Telecom and AT&T and my local provider, I could probably set something like that up for an exorbitant cost, but right now I can go to my vonage dashboard, and set up a new international number in a heartbeat, for $4.99 a month.

To me, that’s one example of something I’m afforded with VoIP, and an example of that third level.

PRMan (user link) says:

[allow] "people to do things they simply could not

How about getting my voicemails e-mailed to me? I don’t get that with POTS. What about simultaneous ring? I’ve never been rich enough to get that from the phone company.

But the true killer app would be to allow me to block phone numbers and caller ID strings.

First, I could block any call where the caller ID read “Political Call”. Second, I could block any call where the phone number started with 011. I don’t know anybody overseas (and my greatly extended family has an e-mail address), but lately all these people have started their spam calls with recordings that make you wait and phone numbers that start with 011.

I would love something like that, but I really don’t feel like building and running an Asterisk box. C’mon Vonage, get with it already. It’s been years now.

Catalyst says:

Cisco solutions are Business/Enterprise class PBX replacements that are reliable, scalable, and gaining major traction in the move to get VoIP mainstream. Unified Messaging/Communications is a bit of Stage 3 in my opinion.

Those looking at Vonage or Skype as the only iteration of VoIP and saying VoIP is not ready for business class use are looking at the wrong class of service.

The major drawback as BillGod mentions above is a problem. Circuit provisioning and the POTS handoff is unreliable. Call quality is not where it should be often times and at this point it’s hard not to point at the LECs/CLECs to see that QoS and circuit deployment still has some serious need to improvement. Once we can prioritize voice across the network from end to end appropriately, and get circuit provisioning to a point where jitter, echo, and dropped calls are a thing of the past – then I can believe that we can get to a point where we can consider other areas of getting Stage 3 to become a reality.

TomS says:

local phone regulationor prevent bare DSL + VOIP

I’d be delighted to dump my POTS and have just VOIP, supplemented by a cell phone, but it’s impossible were I am.

I live in Kentucky. Outside major population areas, we have NO WAY to get high speed network access, except through DSL, which requires a copper connection to the POTS central office. I am a DSL subscriber, after trying satellite and WISP connections. The only way I can get DSL is to also subscribe to Bellsouth for POTS.

BellSouth petitioned the state regulatory bodies to implement two anti-consumer provisions, and they were granted. First, they are NOT required to allow access to their wired network unless it’s through their equipment/network/staff. Second, they outlawed bare DSL service. Their tariff rules in KY prohibit services and connections they must allow in states like LA and elsewhere. Literally, if I select any other phone carrier besides BellSouth, they will terminate my DSL access (via a 3rd party ISP).

That’s why in KY, most customers in BellSouth’s rural coverage areas get DSL through them instead of independent ISPs. It’s legally manadate lock-in. It also means that VOIP is economically disadvantaged. Why get VOIP when I must also pay for a regular wired phone line?

True, if I move to the city, I can get a cable provider, but the point is, some state regulators are captive puppets of the entrenched phone companies. That puts VOIP in a no-win market niche.

RandomThoughts (user link) says:

Who are those that say that VoIP will eliminate the big phone carriers? What does VoIP run on? Broadband. Who offers Broadband? Carriers.

One interesting thing is that for sure, you don’t want your VoIP running over the public Internet. There is just to much latency and jitter. The best VoIP out there comes from cable companies, because their VoIP runs on their own dedicated network, not the public Internet. Course, once you call someone on a different network, you can run into problems.

As for advancements? I know Pulver was hot on presence and everything, I never saw the big demand for that. The killer ap has not been thought of yet, but when it does, it won’t be voice but it will have voice as a part of it.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Subordinate Role of the Telephone

I think the main issue is that telephony has ceased to be the “prime connective.” In 1995, telephony was the only form of electronic communication which most people had. Telephony was, perforce, used for everything, even though it was often an imperfect solution. In large sections of business communication, the additional immediacy of telephony is outweighed by the advantages of having things written down, both as a permanent record, and in the sense that people writing things down consider their responses, and are less likely to make unwise commitments which they would subsequently have to repudiate. When the internet became available, it was discovered that for many purposes, E-mail was more practical, because it was nearly as fast as telephony, and it generated a written record of what had been, with due deliberation, resolved and agreed upon. Similarly, E-commerce, properly implemented, is an effective method for buying standard objects to be delivered by mail. In 1995, people made a great many short telephone calls during business hours, when the rates were much higher. The kind of business which is subjective enough that it requires telephony per se is usually also subjective enough that it resists being done over long distances, and hence does not involve toll calls.

Standards for advanced telephony are not the problem. A given telephony client can support multiple and competing standards, and translate back and forth. The problem is rather more insidious. Telephony has tended to become a “repeated niche product.” Of course, there is a good deal of time lag. People use existing solutions as long as they continue to work, provided the costs are not too great. However, the emerging tendency is that one does not really communicate by telephony with the general public, but only with people with whom one already has a relationship, and for special purposes. In understanding the future of telephony, one has to take account of the fantastic success of the Do-Not-Call list and Caller ID, which were both about dealing with calls from people the recipient does not want to talk to, especially telephone salesmen. The “niche” nature of telephony means that one does not necessarily need a universal or permanent internet telephony address. It also means that additional services do not necessarily accrete to internet telephony. For example, the case for a method of buying things over internet telephony is rather dubious. About the most that can be justified is a text chat messenger client to pass URL’s etc. Even that is unnecessary if the parties know each others’ E-mail addresses. Now, both Windows and typical Linux distributions have had H.323 clients bundled in for some years (NetMeeting, GnomeMeeting).Microsoft’s NetMeeting seems the more extensive of the two, with a whole box of built in services (audio, video, text chat, file transfer, shared whiteboard, remote use of applications, etc.). I suppose some of these services may be Microsoft-only. NetMeeting looks as if it were designed, first and foremost, to enable Microsoft tech support people to assist naive users in using the complex features of a modern computer: to figure out what the user has done; to fix it; and then to both explain and demonstrate to the user what he should do. Microsoft even provided a H.323 nameserver to get the ball rolling. GnomeMeeting is, at present, much more minimalist, doing only audio, video, and text chat. The designer assumed that all parties already know how to use their computers. Of course, both implementations of H.323 were technologically premature. Metcalfe’s Law would indicate that a broadband-only two-person service will only work half the time when you have at least 75% broadband uptake. When you begin to talk about a real meeting, with, say, six people, you are talking about 90% broadband uptake to achieve 50% meeting availability.

The significance of telephony moving inside social networking systems is that it becomes subordinate to the social networking systems’ rules about who can call whom, or talk to whom, and when. In the first place, you can only call someone who is logged onto the service. Beyond that, a social site has a much greater ability to generate contextual rules that a telephony company per se could. For example, a multi-player role playing game can determine which avatars are within speaking distance, and which are not. A poker site can determine who is playing with whom, and make up connections accordingly. Likewise, the site can terminate the connections when the game-based justification for them ends. In the physical world, it is commonplace for people to build their own “special connections” when the circumstances justify the costs, such as private bridges over public streets, linking large buildings and campuses together. One of the most common and earliest examples is that of a fully enclosed, air conditioned bridge over a major street, linking two buildings of a hospital. This obviously has compelling advantages in terms of wheeling patients back and forth. Any number of institutions have private shuttle buses. By that standard, it is normal and expected that social sites would have their own “virtual PBX’s.”

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