VoIP 2.0 Marches On

I am here in the airport on the way back from ITEXPO in Los Angeles . If you haven’t seen the pictures of the event, please do. I haven’t seen a busier show in VoIP and the hunger for knowledge was amazing. Crowds actually had to be pulled out of keynotes and sessions to go to the next session. Take a look at the session’s photos for yourself.

The theme of the show was definitely VoIP 2.0 and everyone feels we are just at the tip of the iceberg. Others told me the future is IP Communications and they told me they love what we are doing with Intel on our IP Communications.com super-portal.

Some trends I noticed are that video is playing a bigger part of the show. In fact the triple-play and IPTV sessions had loads of traffic. We were surprised at how many service providers came to this year’s event. Many exhibitors told me this was the best show they have done all year and I was surprised at how many new companies have come into the space.

There was a time back in 1996 that I knew every VoIP company that emerged. Over the years, the pace of new entrants has increased to a point where I can’t keep up and ITEXPO is the place where I learn about the new companies in VoIP.

Carly Fiorina, Michael Powell, Niklas Zennstrom and Mark Spencer wowed the crowd and the surprise keynote was Commissioner Susan Kennedy of the California PUC who was funny and engaging and is a real person. She is not a politician protecting turf but someone who realizes the telecom laws need overhauling to deal with VoIP. The sentiment was echoed by Powell and Fiorina.

So where are we headed? Everyone agrees that VoIP 2.0 is coming or is here. This depends on your perspective and definition. My concept of Just in Time Communications seems to be embodied by Microsoft beyond my wildest dreams. The company calls their vision real-time communications and while this is a valid term for the concept we don’t want real-time communications we really need Just in Time Communications. Why? Because when we are on vacation we don’t want to take calls from the office unless they are urgent. That is Just in Time Communications in a nutshell. It allows us to take control of communications and it reduces latency in doing so. It includes polite rejection which I believe is the most important factor in enabling rapid adoption of next generation communications.

Perhaps what surprised me most this week was the lack of dissent among keynoters. Everyone seems to agree we are headed to VoIP 2.0. It is unanimous. Certainly this journey must bring along Web 2.0 and must also integrate with IM, video and e-mail.

If there are any hurdles our industry faces it has to be the threat of regulation. This threat can come from a federal level or even a state level. Rural telephone companies do not want to lose their USF subsidies and these companies know how to lobby. Telephone companies are excellent lobbyists. They know how to work with government to exert influence.

For the most part the VoIP industry does not have this lobbying power and there is just not enough money in the VoIP space to allow us to effectively fight ILECS and rural telephone companies who could really influence politicians to place an undue burden on our market.

The problem for regulators is that we have really unbundled telephony from physical networks and it will be impossible to police and regulate the next generation of VoIP services that don’t touch the PSTN or use a numbering plan based in the US. In other words, undue burden placed on the VoIP market will send customers fleeing to VoIP alternatives that are beyond government reach.

The same thing was predicted and happened when Napster was shut down. If anything, peer to peer file sharing allowed even more efficient music sharing than Napster! The music industry and government was probably better off when Napster had a monopoly as they could have controlled the market and slowly found a way to extract revenue from music sharing. Now with the genie out of the bottle it is difficult to stop p2p network sharing.

So perhaps in the long term there is no need to worry. I still hope the government makes some quick decisions on what they will do with VoIP. There is a cloud of uncertainty. Not a huge one but there is the threat of inclement weather.

We are gearing up for VoIP 2.0’s next visit in the in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where I expect the pace of innovation to continue unabated. Who knows what new products and services are in store just 88 days from today.

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