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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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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When fring and iCall announced recently that they were introducing iPhone 3G VoIP calling apps, it seemed a turning point for mobile VoIP. The apps, which recent changes in the Apple SDK made possible, made it clear that there's no turning back: VoIP over cellular data connections will soon become commonplace. What was less obvious was that, at this point, 3G VoIP won't have major impact, at least in the U.S. That's because under existing major mobile pricing plans, it won't produce significant savings for most users.
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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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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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More than eight years after signing up its first residential phone customer, Vonage is finally becoming a real VoIP company. Despite being the name most associated in the public mind with VoIP, Vonage actually has spent most of its time pretending to be a conventional phone company. It offered little that AT&T didn't, except a slightly lower price. Recently, however, it has belatedly begun adding other ways to use its service which take advantage of VoIP's unique capabilities. The latest additions are applications for iPhone and BlackBerry phones.
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In the current recession, a lot of people are starting businesses not because they want to but because they have no jobs. For such individuals, saving money while appearing professional is crucial. A new hosted service called my1voice, offered by Ottawa-based Protus, will help them do that. It provides a business number and office phone features starting at $10 per month. Companies can have incoming calls forwarded anywhere, to any number of employees.
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