VoIP Follies At The Consumer Electronics Show

by Stuart Zipper

 

It’s hard for the average person to make much sense of the flood of news and pseudo-news flowing from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas each January, and this year has proven to be no exception. For those interested in VoIP phone service there’s the usual flock of new IP phones, a couple of new semiconductor chips of real interest only to manufacturers, and even a couple of new VoIP switches (PBXes) for smaller businesses.

The final item – switches – is a surprise, since small to medium-sized businesses don’t really need switches of their own any more. In fact, they’re not even a good idea to have. A major point of a VoIP business phone service such as what Phone.com provides is that a business can forget about the hassles of operating and maintaining its own PBX. In the end a business will spend far less money by having the phone service provider worry about operations and maintenance, with the user getting a virtual PBX that can do anything an on-site PBX would do, but with no up-front cost.

As for the new VoIP phones, the truth is most businesses do not buy their IP phones from a store, although for those who do most can be made to work with almost any VoIP service. What those manufacturers at CES are really doing is trying to convince VoIP providers, such as Phone.com, to resell their phones. Phone.com, and most VoIP providers, already have a selection of excellent phones – including new HD (high definition) voice models – to choose from, in addition to ATAs (analog terminal adapters) that let any standard analog phone work with VoIP. If any of the new phones have real added value, rather than just new gimmicky but unneeded features, chances are good you’ll be hearing about it and offered the phones some time after the latest CES has faded from memory.

Speaking of gimmicks – perusing the mounds of “announcements” and other spin doctor output from CES, I saw such amusing non-VoIP related things as phone headsets touted as “ideal for VoIP.” The truth is that by the time the sound signal gets pumped into the headset it is an analog electrical signal. In other words the fact that the call was carried over an IP network is irrelevant at that point. The hucksters are using VoIP as a hot come-on catchword. So it’s caveat emptor out there.

There is one highly significant VoIP-related event that did come out of CES, although really the timing has nothing to do with the show. That’s Sprint’s announcement of details of its plans to roll out service using Long Term Evolution (LTE). I’ll discuss just why that’s so important to every VoIP user in my blog next week.

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.