Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), once the raggedy younger sibling of vast and established telecommunications channels, has found its feet—and today is poised for a run. A recent report from British analyst firm Point Topic suggests that this technology is taking increasingly larger bites out of the market and estimates that one in five broadband subscribers today has a VoIP service connected.
Worldwide, more than 100-million people were subscribed to VoIP at the end of last year; and just the first six months of 2010 saw another 12-million lines sign on.
Over 22% of consumer broadband lines currently come with a VoIP service. In some markets — like the French, where VoIP penetrates 92.42% of broadband subscriptions and 70% of households have the protocol available to them — broadband subscriptions automatically include VoIP service.
At this rate, says Point Topic, the VoIP market should reach 200-million by 2015. Meanwhile, In-Stat research predicts we’ll crest 288-million VoIP users by 2013.
The interest in mobile access to VoIP especially as we enter the 4G age, to say nothing of the expected growth from broadband expansion, suggests we could hit these bigger numbers even sooner.
It’s only been a short while since VoIP first appeared on the scene, skipping along on a piddly 128 kbps ISDN connection. In 2004,mass-market VoIP services running on existing broadband networks were introduced.
In turn, consumers flocked to embrace services such as Vonage and Skype that promised to lower telephone bills. Businesses exchanged their copper-wire telephone systems for the IP-enabled telephone upgrades and hosted PBX services that would reduce personnel, office space and overhead, while enhancing telephony capabilities and improving customer service.
But we’re not there yet. VoIP continues to suffer an uneven reputation thanks to continued problems with quality, including dropped calls and distorted speech — functions, it bears noting, of the network on which the service runs and not VoIP itself.
A paucity of available bandwidth bears significant responsibility for this shortfall. Voice packets en route from one Internet point to another get waylaid or even dropped altogether by congested routers.
But news breaks everywhere these days about worldwide initiatives to increase bandwidth in a big way. In the UK, for example, Virgin Media is set to roll out its fibre-optic broadband network in December. It will expose select populations to the country’s first taste of 100Mbps upload speed. It’s “a significant milestone,” Virgin CEO Neil Berkett has said of the evolution of broadband technology in Britain.
Also up next for VoIP: continued usurping of older telco infrastructures and further innovation. Much hope is pinned on VoIP’s mobile future and the explosion of smartphone usage that’s helping to power it.
Mobile operators that don’t embrace VoIP, say those with an eye on the scene, will pay the price. Business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan envisions a day, just five years hence, when mobile VoIP will generate $29.57 billion. Telefonica Europe recently took a swing of the bat with a claim to have produced the first VoIP app for Facebook, launched initially as a mobile app for BlackBerries.
The VoIP race is on.