VON Panel, the Sequel
(Sponsor: Lok Technology)
Well, Andy Abramson's "VoIP Bloggers Speak Out" panel at the spring VON in San Jose was quite good. Well moderated. Knowledgeable and articulate panelists. An interested audience. The only fly in the ointment, to borrow quaint phraseology from the pre-VoIP past, was the four-mile-long traffic jam I got into on my way down there. I arrived at the session five minutes after it started and consequently took in the festivities from the audience.
But as Evita famously said, don't cry for me. The session came off well, and here are some of the highlights as I remember them:
--On what's new: No one seemed to be blown away by much they'd seen at the show. Wi-Fi VoIP phones got a mention. Jeff Pulver liked an implementation of VoIP/Wi-Fi roaming he'd seen at the show.
--On analog telephone adapters: General agreement that VoIP services requiring ATAs don't meet what Andy called "the grandma test" -- meaning they probably require too much consumer setup for grandma to do without help; and until they get to the point where they're a truly plug-and-play solution -- and one that's much more elegant from the hardware perspective -- the VoIPs will remain niche. As Jeff said, "No one's invented the iPod for VoIP yet."
--On VoIPs vs. telecom incumbents: Aswath Rao opined that what Vonage and most of the VoIPs in the field today are providing is PSTN voice service that happens to move across a different network in a different form. Although not everyone agreed with that statement, there was consensus that the VoIP startups are headed into a trap by positioning themselves primarily as low-cost alternatives to traditional voice providers and not focusing on IP-based services that could clearly distinguish them from the incumbent powers.
--On "advanced services" that might not be so advanced: What sorts of services might help VoIP startups set themselves apart from the traditional telecoms. People seem to be grasping at ideas, and on one level, what they're wishing for seems very modest. Tom Keating, for instance, suggested a type of "directory assistance" function integrated into a VoIP service and your VoIP device that would allow you to find the name of a service you need right now -- say a deep-dish pizza -- and place the call by pushing a button. James Seng pointed out that that sort of thing is already available in Japan.
--On regulation: No big alarms aside from the usual "government needs to keep its hands off VoIP." Jeff paid brief tribute to departing FCC Chairman Michael Powell's hands-off views. But the most interesting comment in this area -- and I think Om Malik said this, but I wasn't taking notes and for the life of me I can't remember for sure -- was that while we in the States are fixated on our little telecom drama and every move the FCC makes, the most important decisions on how VoIP evolves worldwide are likely to come from Asia, especially India and China, simply by virtue of how big the markets are.
--On where VoIP is going: Andy put this question to Om Malik, who said, "I don't know, Andy. If I knew that, I'd be starting a company." But the general feeling is that over the next five years, VoIP products/services will become seamlessly integrated into our lives -- no more ATA's, no more clunky (that's my adjective) softphone clients, more advanced services. James guesses that telecom revenue will fall by 90 percent in the next five years as voice service becomes even more commoditized. Bottom line, in a few years, the basic monthly charge for voice service might be a fraction of what it is now, and providers will generate revenue by offering a menu of value-added services (that's clearly a model that's already evolving).
--On whether bloggers are journalists: Om noted that bloggers are important to mainstream journalists as radar, an early-warning system on key developments in key subject areas. But the most hotly debated question -- and it wasn't THAT hotly debated -- was whether bloggers deserve the same considerations and legal protections and legal liabilities as big-media reporters. The general feeling was yes -- though there was acknowledgment that not all blogs and bloggers are created equal as to journalistic cred. The panel didn't address a question put by Advanced IP Pipeline's Paul Kapustka about the business model for blogs.