The 2012 Crystal Ball

by Stuart Zipper

 

It’s the time of the year when columnists write about either the past year (That Was The Year That Was) or about their predictions for the coming year. In other words we can be either historians or gurus of one sort or the other. (“Columnist,” by the way, is an archaic term for “blogger.” It harks back to the time when what we wrote appeared in columns of text on paper, rather than as transient pixels on a screen. That’s just as the term “phone line” harks back to the days when all phone conversations were carried over copper wires, rather than in large part or entirely over the optical fibers, and radio waves, more commonly in use today.)

Since crystal ball gazing is more fun, in my opinion, the simply regurgitating the past, here’s a pair of things that I see in VoIP’s future for the coming year, and beyond.

The first big story is a steady growth, almost but not quite tsunami-class growth, of mobile VoIP for both business and personal use. Spurring that is the steady increase in the use of smartphones, which are needed for mobile VoIP. Phone.com, for instance, already offers an Android VoIP app, an iPhone VoIP app, and a mobile office app for Android and BlackBerry (those waiting for the day an app is released for their smartphone, such as yours truly who uses a Windows Phone, can log onto Phone.com’s mobile site, http://m.phone.com ).

The growth of smartphones is, of course, closely linked to the now widespread availability of 3G wireless services, 3G is the first service with the bandwidth needed to handle mobile VoIP. And of course those smartphones with WiFi capability (which is virtually all new ones these days) can make their VoIP calls that way wherever WiFi is available (and avoid the cellular data usage and charges). The situation will get even better as mobile bandwidth increases, with the industry graduating from 3.5G offerings (don’t believe the ads claiming the technologies HSPA+ and WiMax are 4G: they aren’t), to 4G speeds with the deployment of LTE by major carriers.

However I see Mobile VoIP growth in more than just smartphone terms. Think laptops and the hot category of tablets. Both can be, and increasingly will be, used as extensions by small business phone users, particularly when away from the office.

My bottom line prediction: 120-40 million mobile VoIP users worldwide, a huge percentage of them business users, in the coming year. More than half will be in the U.S. and Western Europe.

My second expectation is simply continued very strong growth in the adoption of VoIP by small to medium businesses. Driving that is the fact that businesses are becoming more comfortable with cloud-based computing of all sorts. And VoIP services, such as Phone.com, are cloud-based. Business users get a virtual PBX, for instance, rather than a physical one that has to sit in their office.

Considering the current economy, where every business is looking to save every penny possible, the economics of a virtual PBX phone system, versus a traditional PBX in a box somewhere in the building, are so compelling that it’s hard to believe any small business will even buy a traditional PBX these days.

Couple that with a maturing small business VoIP industry, which is quickly learning how to present itself in ever more understandable ways to small businessmen who don’t – and shouldn’t have to – have the technical expertise to run their own phone system. As an example, take a good look at the new Phone.com web site, rolling out as the New Year rolls in.

Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.