Cheap voice calls are just the beginning for VoIP

Cheap phone calls aren't the only reason to get VoIP, according to attendees at a recent VoIP conference. John Dix reports

Many speakers at the VoN (Voice on the Net) conference in Boston last month talked about what some call VoIP 2.0. If VoIP 1.0 was all about inexpensive calls, 2.0 is about integration and new applications, says Brad Garlinghouse, vice president of communications products at Yahoo.

“VoIP by itself isn’t it,” he says. “It’s all about new functionality.” As an example, he cites a capability Yahoo supports in the United Kingdom through a deal with BT.

When customers are in the office they can have calls to their home sound an alert at work and can then either answer, block or route the calls.

Consumers are ready for 2.0, he says, noting that recent telco advances have actually complicated their lives.

“People have voicemail at home, in the office, on their cellphones and then multiple types of email. We need to break down barriers and integrate these environments,” he says.

Skype co-founder and chief executive Niklas Zennstrom agrees that the future is about new options. He says the first two years for his company were “all about people communicating with each other. Now it is about people communicating with services.”

He can envisage, for example, Skype making it possible for a businessman in China to contact a colleague in Germany and, on the fly, arrange for a translator to join the conversation for a fee. Now part of eBay, Skype has access to eBay’s PayPal business unit, which will make it easier for this type of thing happen.

Zennstrom says there are 400 products built to the Skype API today and some 1,000 developers working on Skype.

Blair Levin, managing director of Legg Mason, says players such as Skype, Yahoo and Google are innovating faster than legacy telco carriers. The latter, he says, have a lot more to lose than to gain.

But BellSouth chief technology officer Bill Smith told the VoN crowd that VoIP is one of four key BellSouth initiatives. The others are building out broadband, integrating wireline with wireless and deploying IPTV (Internet Protocol Television).

Why back VoIP? Smith shares the same view as the others: new features. “The old world was defined by 12 buttons and a switch hook,” he says. “The sky’s the limit in the new world. I should be able to use my cellphone to call up my personal video recorder and program it to record something. That’s possible today but clunky. It should be simple.”

Add to that the fact that this new world promises big savings. Smith says a pure IP-based network would “take several hundred million dollars per year of cost out of our net. We could get rid of all of those expensive Class 5 switches.”

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