Enterprises are leading drivers of HD voice use. Most large organizations have moved or are moving to IP telephony systems, and most new IP phones come with G.722, the baseline HD voice codec for desk phones, built in. HD voice offers enterprises substantial benefits, particularly in conference calls. Because their superior audio makes it easier for participants to understand one another, HD voice calls are more efficient and less tiring than conventional ones. But for the technology to reach its full potential, large numbers of users both inside and outside of enterprises have to be able to make HD voice calls to one another. And significant obstacles stand in the way of that happening.
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There has been a lot of confusion about the disruptive potential of VoIP innovation. Although announcements about supposedly disruptive new VoIP-based technologies or services occur regularly, somehow the dominant telecom carriers manage to remain dominant. In fact, their toughest competitors are other types of dominant carriers. At present, the three most powerful classes of competitors in telecommunications are landline, mobile and cable telephony providers, and all three employ conventional commercial and technical models. Although cable providers use VoIP, in every other way they are themselves traditional telcos.
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XConnect's recently announced plan for a trial HD voice peering federation marks a significant advance in the move to HD communication. The trial, to take place between April and June of this year, will directly connect providers offering HD voice services. That will let them pass HD calls, which provide audio quality superior to that of conventional PSTN phone calls, to one another rather than just among their own customers. The trial thus represents an effort to start building a critical mass of HD-capable voice subscribers. As such, it is as much a commercial effort as a technical one.
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When AT&T responded late last year to the FCC's request for comment on the transition from circuit-switched to all-IP public telephone infrastructure, it seemed to mark a turning point in the history of telecommunications. The 30-page letter the telco filed on December 21 urged the total phaseout of POTS (traditional "plain old telephone service") and the PSTN (public switched telephone network) on which it runs. It also recommended that the agency set a firm date for the transition in order to ensure that it happen as quickly as possible. Thus the company whose name is virtually synonymous with traditional telephony seemed to cast a clear vote in favor of the all-VoIP future. In reality, though, it was just as much a vote against AT&T's traditional service obligations. It was also a shrewd attempt to bind the phone company's interests to the high-profile issue of universal broadband access.
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The numbers from Infonetics Research certainly sounded impressive. A new report by the market research firm revealed that the global market for VoIP services reached $21 billion in the first half of 2009. That sheer volume of revenue made it seem as if VoIP had become the massively disruptive technology everyone said it was going to be. A closer look, however, reveals just the opposite. In fact, VoIP itself is not inherently disruptive. Rather, it's merely a technology that makes the creation of disruptive services possible for those with the vision and insight to use it that way.
Continue reading "In a Biannual VoIP Market Worth $21 Billion, Where's the Innovation?" »