Research: ABI Predicts slow VOIP growth
The gist of the latest report from Oyster Bay, NY-based ABI Research suggests a few datums, none of which will be surprising to close observers of the VoIP space. First, the report suggests that even by 2010, the number of VoIP users will be less than the number of those using landlines. The second is that the VoIP space will be a dynamic market, and those that succeed will be those who have figured out how to add value, ie, generate revenues from their broadband infrastructure.
Michael Arden, principal analyst for ABI on the broadband space, goes on to suggest that the key battleground in the U.S. will be a redux of the old telco v. cable operator fracas. Noting the Japanese example, where Softbank BB has rolled out a substantial residential VoIP deployment, by using an existing DSL network and adding VoIP to its bundle of services.
"Because of the dominance of cable broadband, the battle in North America will be between hosted VoIP companies and cable companies. The cable companies will push VoIP to their existing customer base using cable modems," Arden said.
If Arden's right, what this will amount to is a resumption of what we'll call the Pipe War. A decade ago, the telco/MSO rivalry was all about who could deliver broadband services to the home. The idea then was who could deliver things like movies on demand, and similar services. The telcos thought they could hollow out the market for cable programming, and similarly, the MSOs thought they could carve out a sizable telephony business for themselves. Both were stymied to a degree by the expense of actually executing the Last Mile, ie, hooking up all the homes in their areas.
But to diverge into editorial for a moment, there was also more than a pipe problem. Consumer devices a decade ago were less interoperable. And consumer habits were more fixed -- ie, that's a television, I use it to watch television. That's a phone, and I use it to place calls. That's a computer, and I use it to run software, and check my email. All that is of course changing. One data point that's worth noting is Hewlett-Packard's latest strategy of targeting homes with what amount to multimedia centers, where the services of television, media playing, computing, the Internet, and probably phone services will all converge. It's the new version of the decade-ago dream of the digital appliance. And to the degree that pipe owners and the consumer electronics sphere work in concert, there's an opportunity. Consumers are already patching together their own multimedia systems. Softphones are on the rise. The computer is now capable of being the home's central communication device.
What will be interesting, in the way deja vu always is, will be to watch this latest front in the telco/MSO fight, and see whether the players learned anything since 1995, and more importantly, will rapid VoIP rollout to consumers and businesses generate the kind of revenue both sides are hoping for?