Tuesday, November 10, 2009

VoIP Redux

VoIP is back in to the big league, and who else to be in the spotlight, other than Skype! Skype has been the poster child for the VoIP brigade for quite a few years now. However, most, including me, were disappointed to see Skype find its way into eBay, for there were evidently very little synergies. Indeed, one could vividly recall some of the rather wierd monetization options that eBay could conjure up for Skype, including one in which they considered selling ringtones for Skype calls ! Finally, it appears to have dawned on eBay after over four years that they are better off focussing on their core auctions and e-commerce enablement area (the irony wasn't lost on anyone on how eBay had paid significantly less for PayPal). Nevertheless, to eBay's credit, it has let the company quietly grow in to a potent service that is now looking at hitting a $1 Bn revenue run rate and clocks over 2 Bn paid minutes. What is interesting is that eBay has retained a stake in the company, and the surprise entrants back in to the company are the original (ruthless?) entrepreneur duo who founded Skype.

However, more than the intricacies of how the deal is structured, the deal and its size throws the spotlight back on the VoIP industry. Despite its immense potential, VoIP hasn't really take off in a manner befitting. While Skype has seen success with consumers, however, the real challenge, and the big monies, lie in encouraging enterprises to sign up. The VoIP space is beginning to see renewed traction with competition in consumer VoIP picking up. Nimbuzz recently launched its paid calling service, 'creatively' called Nimbuzzout. Google's Voice service, while not being a full-fledged VoIP service, however, lays bare the Internet giant's intentions for this space. And with rumors flying around of Google's acquisition of Gizmo5, one can be rest assured of a shakeup in the VoIP industry. On the carrier side as well, there appears to be some movement. AT&T has decided to allow VoIP calls over 3G, a point of much contention when Skype for the iPhone was released.While carriers around the world have agreed on the One Voice standard making all future mobile calls VoIP, however, full-scale LTE deployment is a while away.

VoIP, and more so mobile VoIP, appears poised for an interesting future. Having come in to mainstream when mobile ecosystems were tightly closed and , mobile VoIP has historically been limited in its ability. However, recent developments which are progressively breaking down carrier walls, opening up of operator APIs and creation of innovative platforms, such as the one offered by BT's Ribbit, create the potential for an exciting and innovative future.

Update 1: The current spate of action in this space ain't done yet, apparently. Techcrunch is reporting on a possible acquisition of Jajah, and for a change, we finally have a telco in the fray.

Update 2: The news about Google acquiring Gizmo5 indeed turned out to be true. Should be quite interesting to see how Google Voice evolves, now that they have access to a strong SIP platform and a PSTN termination link. More importantly, the prospect of a communications platform that integrates IM, Mobile, Location and uses SIP as the backbone indeed opens up exciting possibilities for realizing the unfulfilled dreams of unified communication. Telcos, watch out!
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