The Future of VoIP

VoIP service has changed rapidly over the past few years, and will continue to do so. This year has seen some dramatic changes already, and the future holds more free options, as well as the possibility of easier access to mobile VoIP.

Usage is growing rapidly. Infonetics Research published a study indicating that VoIP business service revenues will increase 13 percent in 2010. On the residential side, the same report noted that residential VoIP grew 10 percent year-over-year in the first quarter.

The free model

The commercial end of the Internet has evolved in a most peculiar way, with the prevailing business model being that a company needs to give something away for free in order to get the attention of the public, and to generate interest in other paid, value-added services. VoIP is no exception. The biggest  news this year was the release of Google Voice, which could be revolutionary simply because Google has such presence in the industry (and plenty of money to spend). Users are getting more free options, and Skype has already proven that the give-it-away-for-free model works in the VoIP world.

That’s not to say that VoIP will always be free, but these options will become more readily available, and paid VoIP services will become even cheaper over time.

Mobile VoIP

Cellular carriers don’t much care for the idea, but it’s inevitable. Already, several applets are available for the iPhone and Android that allow users to make VoIP calls over WiFi or mobile broadband. The next version of the Google Android platform is said to include support for VoIP over WiFi, and some mobile carriers have already bowed to the inevitable. T-Mobile already allows customers to switch to WiFi when the local signal is too weak. Skype is already available on multiple smartphone platforms, and the iPod Touch has an application that lets people use their iPods as a VoIP phone. We can expect “dual” mobile phones to become the norm within the next five years, and cellular phone companies will have to accept the inevitable, and start offering combined VoIP/cellular service.

Risks and threats

Like any technological service that suddenly takes off, there is always a security threat that comes with widespread use. Attacks against VoIP at present are negligible, although certainly technologically possible. Tapping into a conventional phone requires physical access to the wire—but VoIP, since it is sent over the Internet in digital packets, can be more easily snooped from a remote location, at least in theory. The risk of a denial-of-service attack, or VoIP-based viruses or worms, is a real possibility. However, new VoIP protocols will continue to be develop to mitigate these risks, and the IT security industry is already starting to rise to the challenge with VoIP-specific intrusion prevention technology.

Consolidation

New technologies tend to follow a pattern. Nimble start-ups introduce the technology to the marketplace and popularize it, but once that happens, more established players move in and either put the smaller players out of business or buy them out. As VoIP has moved from an emerging to an established technology, we can expect more industry consolidation among VoIP players.

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