Anders Brownworth

Technology and Disruption

The VoIP Revolution - Yawn...

Why is VoIP news? It is, of course, a revolution for the telecommunications industry, but aren't the rest of us beyond this? Haven't we been using the Internet for 20 years already? Aren't we used to the ability to send data anywhere in the world without paying a metered rate? Hello?

I can only chalk this up to one thing; an industry that stifled innovation for so long that when over 50 years later a competing technology finally took root, everyone extols it?s every virtue regardless of how petty.

In technology, there are people who get it and people who just don?t. Imagine we were going to build a car. A conversation about it might go something like this:

Bob: ?I understand we are building a car.?

Joe: ?Yes, we are. We?re going to make a really efficient hybrid one with really good gas mileage and regenerative breaking.?

Bob: ?OK, now tell me, will the car be able to go from New York to Washington??

Joe: ?Well, yes, of course. Ha ha? It?s a car.?

Bob: ?Really? Wow, that?ll be great! What about from New York to Boston??

Joe: ?Um, yes? it?s a car.?

Bob: ?Wow! That?s awesome! And Atlanta. What about driving to Atlanta??

Joe: ?Um??

You get the idea. There?s always someone who doesn?t quite get it. They try to think about technology without the fundamental understanding of how the underlying pieces work and then expect to be able to spot trends in the market. After a while you just give up on these people because they usually aren?t willing to expend the energy to accumulate the basic knowledge necessary to compete in the world today.

I think much of the old telecommunications industry is this way. As long as you want exactly what they are selling and willing to pay the price, these people are great. But in the face of what has now become a radical departure from the old world, our only choice is to either drag them in kicking and screaming or let them die a blood-letting death.

The problem is that the average consumer still thinks in the old paradigm such as a price per minute for a call. When you say, ?flat rate, unmetered? it?s a revolutionary statement even though the same people have been able to send a packet to the other side of the world from their Internet connection without incurring additional expense. I think for some reason they may not have imagined they could put sound inside the packets. (These are the same people who download music and movies over the Internet! Hello?! Voice over the Internet!)

In the old telephone network you get pulse dialing and you could pay to have tone dialing added to your line. So you pay them $2 a month and then find out that their network uses DTMF tones now and the pulse decoder is an extra piece added on for backward compatibility. So you are actually paying the phone company $2 a month not to have an extra piece of hardware in their system degrading your call quality! It?s just like the old cable filter that the cable company would install if you didn?t purchase the enhanced channels. You pay them not to install it!

This, to me, is indicative of a stagnant technical organization. For 50 years the phone company hasn?t gone much of anywhere technically compared to the constant revolutions experienced in the personal computer industry. If the computer industry grew like the phone company, we?d all still be using DOS in 256k of RAM because its ?good enough to get the job done?.

Turning back to Bob and Joe who are now talking about VoIP, Joe is getting somewhat upset.

Bob: ?So I can call someone else on the network and talk as long as I like and I don?t have a per-minute charge??

Joe: ?Of course, idiot, we?re not reinventing the wheel here! It?s an IP device and hence you inherit everything an IP network has to offer! Do you pay a per-minute charge for your broadband service??

After people grasp the basic capabilities, the VoIP market is all about features and handy integration rather than how much it?s going to cost to call someone. It?s like the New York City Subway, you pay your ticket into the system and go as far as you like. Cleaner cars and better seats make the differience, not the fact that you can go to The Bronx or Brooklyn from Manhattan.

Until the average populace takes the basic benefits of VoIP for granted, I?m sure we will continue to see ?marketing department field days? with this. It?s actually somewhat humorous to watch marketing departments try to figure out what?s important about the various VoIP offerings around these days. There are those that get it and those that don?t. Until the number of those that get it far surpasses those that don?t, it?s bound to be a bloody battle!

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