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Enterprise Calls On VoIP

Does the adoption of a technology by the enterprise make it more likely to cross over to the consumer space? Or is it consumer acceptance of a given technology that makes it easier for enterprise managers to sell it as a budget item?

If it's the latter, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) is certainly poised for its breakout as one of this year's full-blown trends. The packet-based phone technology has already been making real inroads into the enterprise, and it may be now poised for a wider, casual-user breakout, as well.

VoIP's gains to date have been in the enterprise, since network and telecom managers could appreciate the cost savings while also being able to handle the deployment requirements. But with an infrastructure also building up for consumer use, Vonage's deal with Circuit City to offer VoIP service through its 600 U.S. stores seems a harbinger. Vonage already claims 100,000 customers and says it's adding 15,000 per month--a rate that would more than double its installed base by the end of the year. Some of those users are inevitably going to spread the word about VoIP back to their businesses.

Vonage's efforts--and those of other companies offering consumer VoIP service--certainly can't hurt its acceptance in the IT world. Broadband providers expect VoIP to be a big revenue item through the end of the decade, and it is starting to drive business in other networking segments, such as softswitches (i.e., non-hardware switches) and softphones--a sure sign of a hot, quickly maturing technology.

Even though landline, circuit-switched technology isn't going away anytime soon, it's clear that VoIP isn't either. Regulation issues are in flux, as are some other aspects of VoIP, namely security assurance and law-enforcement needs. And enterprise managers need to carefully consider issues such as quality of service, making sure that deployment fits their overall corporate strategies.

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