VOIP is a commodity. Don’t believe me? I would be surprised to hear of a company that hasn’t been offered this technology in one form or another. Hard VOIP users topped the 100 million mark, based on research conducted in the UK and released in 2010. VOIP was being used in South Africa before it was legalised in 2005, it’s been six years since the technology was official, and it’s even more of a topical subject today then it was back then.
The only difference now is that VOIP has a new face, says Mitchell Barker, founder of WhichVOIP. There used to be a clear distinction between VOIP, IP telephony and unified communications. Going forward, it’s going to be about users (not devices) and applications (not features).
I am terming this piece ‘VOIP 2.0’ with the intent of highlighting what I believe to be ‘survival mode for VOIP’. Those not moving with the times will struggle to retain their customers until they can wrap enough value around what it is they are offering. The market is ready for providers to step up to the plate.
So what trends are in this ‘2 dot 0’ acronym? In my view, the ‘2.0’ wave is about innovation, to continue re-inventing yourself, focus on changing the user experience, and adding value to your customers by addressing their individual and specific communication requirements. Fundamentally, the normal VOIP value proposition just doesn’t cut it anymore.
VOIP 2.0 is not going to be about cheap minutes ? VOIP 2.0 is going to be about application. Cheap(er) minutes will be the value-add, and not the primary reason for adoption of the technology.
A few examples of this could be (or a few examples of VOIP applied, versus VOIP LCR – least cost routing):
* Connectivity via VOIP = commodity
* Survivability through VOIP = application
* VOIP onto cellphones = commodity
* Mobility, single number identity, always being contactable = application
* VOIP conferencing = commodity
* Managed and recorded conferencing, voice and video, with collaboration between users ? on the fly = application
Customers have started to realise that productivity gains, improved efficiency, and seamless contactability through VOIP are now tangible measurables. This isn’t ‘pie in the sky’ stuff anymore. Unified communications can be ‘general’ technology, but when mapped into a customer’s organisation in a way that positively affects how that company does business ? well that’s when you start to realise these benefits.
The key differentiators in a market with these dynamics will be experience and flexibility. I would like to think that there aren’t too many major providers that bring both to the market. Understanding who is and who will be positioned in the future – one thing is for sure ? I don’t foresee more than a small handful of players in the next three years. Simply said, the mammoths will continue to grow, certainly through acquisition of smaller players.
However, this doesn’t mean that those will be the only identities in the market. Building, licensing and managing a VOIP network simply isn’t a viable option anymore. Interconnect agreements and network licences are hard to come by; they’re expensive, and they eat away at the bottom line. This will present an opportunity for smaller companies to get involved and provision white-label services from the major operators.
We will see an abundance of new-age technologies backed by carrier class networks in many forms ? VOIP-driven applications and business models that will take us into the new era, such as hosted PBX as a premise-based alternative, the move to open applications embedded into common interfaces, which will tie in with mobility, and last, but certainly not least, integration with common business applications.
At the end of the day, VOIP providers need to start changing in an adapt-or-die comms world. The next wave of communications is on us, and in our market, we’re seeing a lot more small businesses with big business requirements.