Last week, I started talking about how VoIP and fiber technologies have already triumphed over traditional TDM/POTS and copper technologies. But boy, did I digress and start feeling nostalgic for the old days. Calling copper a "brilliant" final mile solution? I must have been holding the tip and ring a few too many times when ring voltage came down the line. Well, at least I resisted the urge to plug my latest book available on Amazon: "The Joy of Punching Down on a 66 Block," available from IBEW Press. Perhaps I was experiencing a little oxidation of the brain (was my green patina showing?) Anyway, if you think that was a stretch, my goal this time is to show how all this comes back to cloud computing.
I will always be attracted to the simplicity of yesterday's technology, which is why I still tell companies to have a couple of POTS lines installed for new VoIP installations, just to ensure that battery-driven (i.e., over the CO's copper) e911 service is available in a widespread power outage. That said, I have fully abandoned POTS at my residence (I finally decided Sprint's 3G service for voice and data was really all I needed) and have recently abandoned home VoIP as well (rationalizing that investing in VoIP just so the babysitter could call us was moot, since teenagers wouldn't be caught dead without a cellphone today anyway). For the enterprise, adoption of VoIP will not be so black and white, but it’s already won there too.
The very first “voice-over” systems in the enterprise were Voice-over-Frame-Relay, whereby a company with high international calling would simply push voice traffic over their data infrastructure to capture the arbitrage opportunity that existed between legacy voice pricing and more efficient data pricing. The system was complex and not transparent (one would usually have to teach the staff to dial 8 or something to seize a VoFR trunk) and arbitrage opportunities tend to eliminate themselves, as happened when voice pricing dropped to equalize the differential. But ever since then, small steps have been made toward "total VoIP in the enterprise," which will be fully recognized when none of us know our legacy North American Dialing Plan phone numbers anymore.
If you think about it, dialing phone numbers is as primitive as typing http://10.123.23.124. Once we each started using cell phones (and once most phone numbers became 10-digit instead of 7-digit), we stopped memorizing them. The interim solution of typing phone numbers into our cellphone is a pain we have all experienced whenever we had to buy a new cellphone. Also, the latest trend of backing contacts up to a network to transition to a new service will soon be shown to be just as primitive. In the future, through socially aware cloud computing services (such as Facebook and LinkedIn), one will never have to keep track of people's phone numbers again.
Today, I have both Facebook and LinkedIn’s mobile clients installed on my BlackBerry Tour and synced with my contacts database. I don’t need to keep track of the fact that my friend Tom moved to San Francisco and has a new number. LinkedIn knows Tom is a professional acquaintance of mine (he’s actually a friend but since he’s not on Facebook, I can’t “friend” him) and it knows that I am entitled to call Tom on his mobile. For that reason, Tom’s 415 area code mobile number is in my phone. And if he moves again, my phone will be updated again with his latest number.
All this is important because as technology changes and we discover new ways to communicate with each other (VoIP and non-VoIP) these social trends will force people (many kicking and screaming) to use these more modern technologies to communicate. As more and more people publish their UC address, for example (in effect, their email address and not their phone number), people will soon figure out that if you want to talk to Christopher, you have a better chance of reaching him and talking him via UC than by dialing his phone number. Why? Because a UC call doesn’t have to start as voice; it can start as a courteous IM (“do you have time to talk live about XYZ”) and continue as a chat while I am talking on the phone with someone else and then “graduate” into a UC voice call once I am done talking with the first party. Clearly, this is not your father’s copper POTS line.
As such, while VoIP has already won across the backbone, user behavior still has to change to make VoIP win at the application layer. That will be an evolutionary process. First, people have to become comfortable with socially aware multi tasking (a good read about this is my blog about The Future of Collaboration) and then a critical mass of people who prefer “VoIP multitasking” will need to form within any given enterprise. Interoperability with VoIP means that intra-enterprise UC VoIP will take off before inter-enterprise UC VoIP, but given time, that will happen too. Certainly, inter-company UC VoIP will be here before my friend Tom gets pressured into joining Facebook. Because I am pretty sure he still mails physical checks to pay his bills too.