VoIP may finally be on firm ground

Tools

Dan O'Shea

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project recently reported that almost one-quarter of Internet-using American adults have made telephone calls on the Internet via a service such as Skype or Vonage. The figure showed sharp increase over the last time Pew polled people on this question, though this year was the first time Pew worded the question to offer Skype and Vonage as examples of such a service.

The results may tell us a couple of things about the state of VoIP. Like other telecom service technologies, the odd-sounding acronym may be giving way to the biggest brand names in the business, That's a good thing. Since the earliest days of VoIP, I have always thought the word sounded like the needle of a record player being scratched across a record (I know I am dating myself to the early Middle Ages with that reference). In any case, it is not a hopeful sound, not a sound associated with a promising technology, and most importantly, not a sound that comes easily out of the mouth of the American public.

Enter the brand names. Vonage did a little better in the pleasant-sounding word department, though even amid ubiquitous advertising, people have been never quite sure on which syllable to put the accent. Skype fixed all that, with the ultimate punchy brand name so easily turned into a verb. Anyway, my point is that the American public is starting to forget VoIP the technology (which often carried the spectre of poor quality), and have embraced VoIP the service, a service which they know mostly by a couple of major brand names (which more often is remembered for being inexpensive and pretty darn cool).

Another thing the survey results may suggest is that VoIP has gotten past a very rough spot in its market development, when traditional telecom service providers were more interested in trying to sue Vonage into extinction than in promoting their own embryonic VoIP offerings. For a while during the middle to late portion of the last decade, the VoIP market was too crowded and too fragmented. Several promising players faded, but since then, VoIP has become more integrated with unified communications on the business front, and has become more mobile overall. In fact, in another few years, we may think of VoIP primarily as a mobile application.

A technology that once had a lot of issues and almost was snuffed out by the traditional telecom industry has survived its darkest period to become a successful service. Cheers to VoIP--or whatever you want to call it.--Dan