I just moderated a panel here at the VPF in Miami and the topic was voice 3.0 and when we will get there and what it would entail. My panelists were from 8×8 and SunRocket and in both cases the technical people within the organizations.
One of my goals as a moderator was to try to figure out from panelists just when VoIP 2.0 or even 3.0 will arrive and the answer seems – according to my panelists — to be no time soon. The challenge here as discussed by Andrew Newton the Development Manager of the VoIP Platform Group at SunRocket is that consumers do not want advanced applications.
Andrew says consumers want some phone control on their PCs but not much. They are comfortable with the phone handset as the device controlling the phone.
Specifically the consumers the company targets do not want these services. I asked about generation Y or Z or whatever it is called and I discussed how web savvy this group is. Andrew answered that the goal is to not only launch services but profitable services. The implication is these kids will use advanced apps that exist on the market today but will never pay for them.
The concern among panelists seems to be finding the latest killer application which gets customers to open their pocketbooks. Neither panelist seems to have the answer about what that app would be.
Garth Judge the VP of Research and Development at 8×8 the parent company of Packet8 phone service discussed an application where skiers could use the phone to instantly conference each other as they are going downhill. He mentioned it was a niche play but at least it is a somewhat new idea and that gave me hope.
Other that this glimmer of hope for new apps there wasn’t much discussion of what the future looks like. SunRocket seems to be very happy to push its WiFi phone as something unique and innovative and while I was on the panel I kept thinking this is not such an interesting technology.
But as I write I realize the penetration of WiFi phones in the US is probably 0.1% of all consumers so perhaps there is a much bigger opportunity here than I realize. Perhaps as I have suggested before, really good WiFi phones will allow consumers to send SMS messages and this could be a killer application.
The audience asked a number of questions about how SunRocket and Packet8 will differentiate themselves in the next few years. The answer was that SunRocket is not so sure but they hope to have new features customers want as time goes on. In fact Andrew mentioned SunRocket is adding new features all the time.
Garth mentioned the company is transitioning form a consumer to small business services and this transition should be very positive for the company.
On a separate note I asked about the Verizon patent lawsuit against Vonage and the two company representatives said they both think they are not in the same position as Vonage and these patents do not apply to them. They also said there are likely other providers who are going to be liable. The audience members seemed to think that many service providers will have to raise prices to compensate for the “Verizon tax.”
Both companies feel the future of VoIP service will be in open APIs and building ecosystems around their services. They also feel they will both have more and more features we are familiar with from software only VoIP providers.
So what is the future of voice 3.0? The panelists seem to think this is too far off to give it tremendous amount of thought but at the same time are focusing on services and features they believe will develop immediate revenue.
So if the PSTN replacement companies are not looking five years out the question becomes who will? I would imagine the software only companies and ecosystem partners will be where the innovation comes from. After all these players have lower fixed costs as they aren’t providing PSTN replacement infrastructure such as call centers to take support calls. They can afford to be more creative and to experiment more.
Just as new versions of operating systems have absorbed innovative software applications we will likely see VoIP providers with open APIs integrating the best of breed ecosystem partners into their future offerings. Skype has already done this with their recent Skype Pro offering. It seems that as VoIP providers operate on thinner and thinner margins the opening up of APIs is the smartest way to generate revenue from new services. By sharing the risk of development, providers will also be shielded from failed ideas and can reap shared rewards from the successful ones.