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Will UC Save Enterprise VOIP?

The voice-over-IP visionaries have always hung out in the consumer space, for the most part; after all, VoIP started out as a subversive, disruptive application whose advocates more or less explicitly predicted that they'd kill the big telcos. A noble goal, and one that proved well beyond their means. Even the wildly successful (and free) Skype didn't come close to killing the carriers.It did, however, go a ways toward hollowing out their business model. You could argue that the mid-1990s RBOC model -- in which the carriers still got 80% of their revenue from legacy voice even as the Internet blasted into orbit -- was doomed once broadband reached critical mass. And the carriers are moving that way with their various fiber deployments and video services. Yet the carriers still aren't completely weaned off low-value voice -- at my house, we still pay more for our landline voice than we do for our DSL. Of course, a chunk of that voice bill consists of various fees and surcharges, which means sundry governments may, as well, be in for a rude awakening about that particular revenue stream.

But now there's a big debate in the visionary part of the VoIP industry, where they're asking, as summed up in this GigaOm post, "Is VoIP Dead?" Om Malik says it is, while others say that innovative voice services for the masses -- essentially, a kind of consumer Unified Communications, as I take it -- is still possible. (Irwin Lazar weighs in at No Jitter, here.)

I side with Om and Irwin. I think voice is a really low-value application for consumers -- it really is commoditized on the consumer end. Consumers like me keep our landlines as a kind of security blanket, and because, ironically, when you work from home it's cheaper to use the landline when you're calling into a toll-free conference bridge. Other consumers get rid of their landlines and go all-cellular and do fine, saving the basic landline charge and aforementioned onerous fees into the bargain. Both types of consumer have made a choice based on something other than the voice service itself -- i.e., they're still not looking at voice as anything other than a capability you can run through a telephone of one kind or another.

I don't see why that will change, why a consumer would add voice to any "application" other than a video game. And a videoconference, of course.

The enterprise is another matter. Consumers may be looking to take complexity out of their voice communications, using a special-purpose device when they do desire voice calling. But if your business is on the other end of that call, you may not have the same need for simplicity of treatment. You never did: You had key systems or PBXs or ACDs to route calls coming from people who, at the other end of the line, were shouting to their spouses, "I got it on the upstairs phone! You can hang up now!"

And when communications happens within the enterprise, or with business partners, etc., voice becomes even more useful as an addition to other applications, and as a session that can be set up, re-routed, combined with other sessions, and generally *handled*.

So in the enterprise, VoIP isn't dead. It may be rolled out more slowly over the difficult times ahead; but as the basis of next-generation communications systems, it's business critical.In the enterprise, VoIP isn't dead. It may be rolled out more slowly over the difficult times ahead; but as the basis of next-generation communications systems, it's business critical.