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The Cargo Cult of Business » VoIP - Threat or Menace?

VoIP - Threat or Menace?

Published on 25 Apr 2007 at 11:14 am | No Comments | Trackback
Filed under The Cargo Cults of Business, Technopolitical, Design, Interface, and Usability, Networking Technology, Pure Geek, Information Technology, Open Source Software.

My esteemed colleage Paul has written at length in this space on VoIP, and as always he brings tremendous insight. And yet the point is missed.

I’m not challenging the benefits of the many technical improvements that have been made to the PSTN since Alexander Graham Bell’s day. Dedicated engineers have worked long and hard to make it an unremarked marvel of the world, and the idea that perhaps variable-length packets might be more efficient that fixed-length ones is entirely reasonable. And I have no doubt that converging the wiring plant (over time) will save money.

Paul cites unified messaging. Octel introduced this in the 90s; Paul knows one of the senior product managers on the project, he can ask her for details. UM doesn’t care about packet length. After all, a .WAV file consists of fixed-length 8-bit "packets".

The advent of VoIP is an opportunity to re-define the user experience. Once, not so many years ago, I was a happy knowledge worker with a computer on my desk. One day corporate management awarded me a "Messaging Terminal", a dedicated box that did what amounts to email. You typed, it stored-and-forwarded. Others’ messages appeared on the screen. Wow, what a cool idea! I wonder if it will catch on? ;-)   Mind you, Unix email was well-established at this time. (Sidebar: we built a gateway between our Unix email and the corporate system. Management found out and demanded that it be unhooked. We complied, then shipped it overseas and reconnected it between to far-flung points, and kept it more secret. It ran for years….) I didn’t want a separate email terminal; why do I want a separate voice terminal?

Skype has shown us what VoIP could be. Skype works well, is free, is even easier to deploy than VoIP, and, wonder of wonders, does not compel the use of strange incomprehensible numeric endpoint addresses.

It’s not perfect. I wish it were open. As Paul suggests, an open system would allow a faster rate of innovation. OTOH, the open VoIP systems still haven’t move past !~@@#$^&!@$%! phone numbers, so maybe it’s a purely theoretical advantage.

As for the opne-ness of standards-based VoIP, yes, it could happen, but….  I suspect that the mind-set of the telephony world will keep it from evolving very quickly. Their unwillingness to let go of the station instrument model is telling in this regard. Innovation under the sheets to save money? Sure. Helping the user? Get real - this is the phone company we’re talking about. Oh, and Ernestine is holding for you on line two.

The bigger issue with Skype is one which applies to all VoIP systems, namely that the government will bugger them to death with regulations and taxes. Vonage is in critical condition; E-Bay has bigger fish to fry than Skype and is unlikely to mount a to-the-death defense of it virtues.

Hello coders! Anyone out there wat to create the next, truly distributed and open peer-to-peer VoIP system? Skype has shown the way. Screw SIP and all that, just code something that works! 

-- Oliver
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