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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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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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 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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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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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.
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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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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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VoIP and cellular services alike can do a lot of things that conventional landline services can't. For example, they can transmit both voice and various other kinds of data between phones or other end devices. That capability makes possible all kinds interesting combined services, often starting with or based on the ability to detect users' presence – that is, their availability to receive calls or respond to messages.
Once those services encounter the traditional phone network, or PSTN (public switched telephone network), though, they hit a roadblock. The PSTN can transmit only voice calls and limited kinds of call-related data. That means presence and other information, not to mention the various kinds of video or other data streams themselves, can't get through. A new deal between XConnect and the GSM Association, or GSMA, attempts to circumvent that roadblock.
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