Saturday, April 11, 2009

Voice is dead; long live voice

I just made my first call using the Skype app for my iPhone (to a 1-800 number). The quality was noticeably better than I get using GSM at home. After I was done with the call, I turned to my wife and said “Voice, as a business model, is dead.”

The only question is, how to replace it? How can you find a person with the maze of messaging apps that do voice calling? You’ve got Skype, MSN, AOL, Gmail, Google Voice, and so on. With any of these, the easiest thing to do is set up a phone number for people to reach you.

But let’s say you have the Skype phone number for people to call into. How do you handle things like PBX? I called AT&T’s 1-800 number using Skype. That 1-800 number routes calls to hundreds of people sitting in cubes somewhere based on their availability. Can Skype do that? I doubt it. (BTW, this is a good business idea if one was so inclined).

And then there’s the mobile aspect. Someone needs to release a device that uses one of these services, like Skype, on a mobile network. Ok. Assuming that any mobile provider would go along with this, once again you’ll have to buy a phone number if you want most people to reach you. In that case, what was the point? Unless you and receive so many calls that a cell phone is cost-prohibitive, you might as well just get a regular cell phone.

So even though the price of voice calling is dropping to zero—fast—I’m still not sure how to get rid of the telephone system in its current state and migrate to VoIP entirely. Telephone numbers are easy. You have a country code, an area code and a phone number. They’re easy to remember. They work between all of these online services like Skype and MSN. Will we end up in a situation where telephone numbers become the method by which people call over the internet and the regular telephone system?

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