September 16, 2008
Skype: VoIP is Dead; IM Technology Is Key to Telecom's Future
By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor
Here’s how one bold keynote presenter, minutes ago, launched into his vision of telecommunications in front of more than 200 attendees at the Internet Telephony Conference & Expo, which runs through Thursday.
“My talk is maybe a little bit off-center for this audience, but let’s see if we can work through it,” Jonathan Christensen, general manager of audio and video at Skype (News - Alert), told a standing-room only crowd of VoIP professionals, IT insiders, journalists and others gathered in a conference room here at the Los Angeles Convention Center’s West Hall. “The title of my talk is: ‘VoIP Is Dead.’ So, maybe a little bit of controversy about that, but as I said, let’s work through it.”
For the next half-hour, Christensen led his audience – pictured here on TMC (News - Alert) President and ITEXPO Chairman Rich Tehrani’s blog – through the history of Internet telephony, price wars that have surrounded the technology, and some of its benefits.
“VoIP had a very significant role to play in the industry,” Christensen said.
Benefits have included making distance irrelevant – a consumer plus – and the erosion of geographic numbering plans, Christensen said.
Yet the so-called “unbundling” of access, devices and applications – a trend that’s spurred by consumers themselves, Christensen said – is steering voice technologies in an unexpected direction, making them less important communications innovations than some others. In particular, he said, the innovation of instant messaging, and the networks that its support system gave rise to, are proving to be critical telecom innovations.
Instant messaging, now about a dozen years old, led to features such as “presence” – where a person could tell whether a user was on or offline, as well as chat communications. Importantly, for Christensen, the creators of IM, a group called ICQ, built the first global directory and overlay network that could be layered with rich communications.
“This is really, really big,” Christensen said. “This is the first IP signaling network to be deployed globally. And it wasn’t planned by the ICU. It just happened.”
Eventually, Christensen said, Skype “closed the loop” of what was already in place for a new way of communicating: a combination of IM, voice, video, NAT and peer-to-peer technologies.
Now, Christensen said, are emerging three pillars of a generation “beyond VoIP.”
The first pillar, he said, includes different facets, including the fact that – unlike analog telephone conversations – services such as Skype are marked by an “explicit handshake model,” or agreed relationship, where both or all parties have agreed to communicate (a nice idea although this presidential election year will feature no robocalls, courtesy of Congress). Secondly, he said, there’s a new band of audio, including wideband audio, improving communications, in part, by allowing participants to distinguish among different speakers. Finally, higher resolution video makes video conferencing such as that offered by Skype, more real.
Some challenges loom in terms of packet loss and jitter, slow broadband deployment and some network neutrality issues – as well as hindrances in services such as Skype working consistently well over mobile devices.
In many expected ways, the original vision of combining voice, video and data has been realized – but it’s been realized in a way that Christensen described as “unexpected.” To say that “VoIP is dead,” for Christensen, is to say that IP-based voice applications, on their own, are no more the future of communications than any other feature of IP technology.
“We have voice, we have video, we have presence, we have chat,” he said. “We have this new communications modality and it’s happening on the Internet, it’s happening on open platforms. It’s happening for end-users in their homes and in their businesses.”
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