The State of VoIP
by Andy Oram
I often go out seeking fertile intersections of technological
innovation, new businesses, and policy debates. This month, I found
just such an intersection at the Fall 2004 Conference and Expo of the
Voice on the Net (VON) Coalition. It bubbled over with a rich,
interactive mix of implementers, vendors, service providers,
customers, standards committee members, regulators, public interest
representatives, and press. Organizer Jeff Pulver predicted over 5000
people -- twice the number who came last year -- to pass through the
show. The presence of more than 200 vendors on the exhibit floor
showed that a lot of people expect VoIP to generate a lot of
money. More on that later.
You may think you know Voice Over IP. It's the technology that lets
you phone Cairo from San Francisco as casually as you send an
email. And it lets you bypass those nasty charges that the FCC levies
on behalf of rapacious local phone companies.
But wait! The FCC and the local phone companies love VoIP! FCC chair
Michael Powell came up to Boston for the Tuesday morning session of
the VON conference, saying such things as, "You are bringing about a
revolution, like the American revolution, bringing power to the
people....We need to create a new constitution regulating VoIP that
reflects that revolution. If we do, we will be rewarded as our
forefathers were ... VOIP has ignited a fire under a stalled industry."
And the day before, a spokesperson from Verizon gleefully called VoIP
a disruptive technology (not a trait that one would expect to endear
VoIP to an established incumbent) and touted it as a selling point for
So what's going on? To get some perspective on what VoIP means to
different people, we have to look at some of the technical challenges,
then at its business prospects, and finally at regulatory issues.
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