VoIP is an almost constant topic in our daily dose of business and tech-related news. VoIP, or Voice over Internet/IP is really an old technology re-emerging with a new face and marketing spin. In reality, we've been using VoiP for years, just as the Internet community used email for years before it was embraced by the business and consumer communities in the nid-1990s. Whether you want to reference Voice over Internet or Voice over IP protocol, at the most simple level it is merely a matter of interfacing voice or audio input with a microphone device, digitizing the input, slicing it into packets, sending it over an Internet network to a destination address, reassembling packets at the other end - voila! you have Voice over Internet or IP.
Sound too simple? This is precisely what the telephone industry does not want you to know. It is simple, so simple a loosely knit group of people can slap together a bit of code, call it Skype, and within 18 months sign up nearly 80 million people around the world. And guess what? IT WORKS! Bet Time Warner or Verizon Hawaii wishes they had that market clout!
Now, much like the Internet itself, the user community is defining and writing the future of global voice communications in the privacy of their own homes. Not in Palo Alto, not in Bangalore - in simple bedrooms and informal hobby shops scattered around the world. Hard to believe your next personal or business communication system may be written and published by a high school student in Uruguay.
Get this... Whatever lobbying telephone companies may attempt in trying to prevent VoIP applications through use of tactics such as E911 non-compliance, taxation, regulations, etc., there may actually be no way for governments to ultimately regulate VoIP. The only way for the phone companies and government to ultimately control voice applications may be to simply shut down the Internet. Otherwise there will be a new application born every day which is designed to go around temporary blocks established by companies wishing to filter VoIP from their networks. Why do I say that?
Consider email. Many Post and Telecommunication Administrations (PTAs) around the world initially attempted to control use of email within their countries. Many reasons were given, such as national security, infringing on the rights of the state-owned monopoly post office, and a thousand other reasons why email was not acceptable within the "special" situation within an individual country.
The result? The community got creative and bypassed their governments. Instead of accessing email from local ISPs and email hosting providers - they simply got accounts on Yahoo, Hotmail, or other freemail service and accessed email through a public web browser located in a different country. The email debate is no longer an issue. This will soon be the case with VoIP.
Here is another interesting idea to consider. In the case of email, now nearly any desktop computer can be configured to serve as an email host - simple stuff, even for a relative beginner. With public domain VoIP servers now on the street such as "Asterisk" your next door neighbor high school student could potentially be the next telephone company. So as soon as the regulators start going after Vonage and the rest of the public VoIP companies, another hundred free phone services ala Skype, compatible and interoperable with a thousand other free phone services will emerge.
A full understanding of the concept of presence will further enlighten the masses on this approach. Just think of the potential impact on traditional voice services if Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and other instant messaging or presence service providers with VoIP aspirations actually meet the growth expectation telecommunications analysts! MSN's instant messenger claims to add nearly 30,000 users each day!
So what can the average telephone company do to defend themselves from VoIP? Probably nothing. The Voice over Internet/IP "train has left the station." The best chance they have is to concentrate on building physical networks, partner with one or more VoIP and presence management companies, and resign themselves to the position of a telecom infrastructure provider. A bit of concentrated lobbying may delay VoIP diffusion within a geographic location, but VoIP is a truly disruptive technology which will have a major impact on the way we communicate in a global network and society.
VoIP is in our future
John Savageau is the Senior Vice President, Operations, at CRG-West. CRG-West operates major telecommunication facilities such as the One Wilshire Building in Los Angeles and Market Post Tower in San Jose. Contact John Savageau at email@example.com