Video conferencing was a lot more interesting to watch in 2011 than was VoIP. It wasn't that nothing happened in VoIP during the year. It was just that a lot more happened in video conferencing. This was especially true in the SMB space. Early summer saw a slew of significant announcements from vendors and providers. These announcements figured prominently in the VoIP Evolution report "SMB Video Conferencing: Getting Beyond Clouds & Interoperability."
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After starting as the year of HD voice, 2010 ended as the year of video communication. Video in fact became so prominent that it earned a place in the title of this list. Announcements about new video communication products and services were so numerous they became routine. As the year progressed, it became clear that video conferencing/calling was no longer a luxury for the corporate and government elite, but was well on the way to becoming a commodity for the masses. Ordinary individuals will soon be making video calls with little more thought than they now give to picking up a telephone. Making that happen, however, will be a complex challenge for vendors and service providers.
A variety of other factors shaped voice and visual communication during the year. Chief among these were developments in mobile VoIP and video calling, along with an acceleration of the move to cloud-based voice services. Politics and the weather played unusually high-profile roles as well. So did the negative: Unlike last year, not all the important developments were advances – some were downright problematic. But even the negative developments had some constructive aspects. Skype of course figured prominently in many of the developments. So pervasive was the influence of the Internet VoIP pioneer that it seemed that the corporate slogan of "Skype Everywhere" applied to its appearances in headlines as well.
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One big problem for companies in handling customer calls is uninformed answers. That is, the person answering the call has no idea who is calling or why. Large companies solve the problem by using call centers, which integrate high-end CRM (customer relationship management) systems with sophisticated call-handling systems. For smaller companies, integration of hosted or premises-based IP PBXes with hosted CRM services is a good solution, eliminating the need for premises-based CRM systems. And a new "rich calling" service launched by Ringio at this week's eComm conference simplifies things even further. For a flat rate per user, it provides both IP PBX and basic CRM functions in a single hosted service.
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Given the names involved, many observers unsurprisingly expected whatever deal Skype and Verizon Wireless planned to announce at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to produce a major breakthrough for mobile VoIP. But when the announcement came, it turned out to be less than overwhelming. It involved an application that will allow mobile users to make Skype calls over the Verizon Wireless network using smart phones. The deal does little to alter Verizon's traditional cellular model. It doesn't transport VoIP over the 3G data network, and it won't be a major money-saver for users. The main change it brings is making Skype somewhat more convenient and accessible for Verizon customers.
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Verizon Wireless was for a long time the most conservative U.S. carrier. It did everything it could to keep even mildly disruptive applications and services off of its network and handsets. In the last year, though, it has claimed to be changing, saying it planned to make its network as open as possible. In October it said it would introduce two handsets running the Google-developed Android operating system, and with Google Voice installed. It subsequently announced a deal with Google to jointly develop and sell products, including such Android-based devices. Now it appears set to announce a deal with Skype.
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There were more advances than true innovations in the VoIP world in 2009. That's because some of the most important developments had more to do with commercial and political maneuvers than with technical creativity. Still, such maneuvers often helped spread the benefits of VoIP as much as did technical innovation. And collectively, the advances brought some already-evident trends into clearer focus. A key such trend is the increasing integration of voice with other applications and services. Another is the intensifying interest in HD voice. A third is the growing interconnection of VoIP services, in part in response to the possibilities that end-to-end HD voice offers. With such trends as background, here, in no particular order, are our top 25 VoIP advances of 2009.
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The most widely recognized obstacle to mobile VoIP running over cellular data networks is carriers' opposition. Mobile operators don't want to allow services that compete with their lucrative voice minutes businesses to run over their networks, because it means all they'll get paid for is transporting the bits carrying the voice, a far less lucrative business. A less-known obstacle to the service is call quality concerns. Regular voice calls can sound bad enough, but delivering them over a data network not designed with real-time services like voice in mind. A Global IP Solutions (GIPS) answer to the latter problem is now available for Android users.
Continue reading "Nimbuzz First Customer for GIPS Android HD Codec" »
The timing of the announcements by Verizon Wireless and AT&T was almost transparent. Both came just a couple of weeks after new FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's September 21 speech on network neutrality. In that speech, Genachowski stated, among other things, that neutrality rules should cover wireless communications. Even then, it was clear that mobile VoIP would be the most explosive issue in the network neutrality battle.
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A mobile phone's built-in address book has limited usefulness. For instance, it only allows users to call people whose numbers they've already entered – which means people they know well. Directory assistance, on the other hand, is about reaching people or establishments one knows almost nothing about. But there's no easy way to deal with the vast territory in between – to reach people one knows only casually, or to learn more about people and companies one knows almost nothing about. San Francisco-based CallSpark, which presented at the recent DEMO conference, is trying to fill that gap.
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One of the more elusive dreams of emerging VoIP services is integration with social networks. The idea is compelling: if tens or hundreds of millions of people make calls to their social network "friends," someone will be able make a lot of money from it. So far, though, no one has had much success in appealing to such users. A startup that presented at the recent DEMO conference is trying to change that. OrganIP, run by France-based Digitrad, is trying to turn social networks into giant phone books.
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