VoIP Pipelines

Last week I interviewed the president of a firm that specializes in consulting for the cable TV industry, reviewing the message he was to deliver as the lead-off speaker at a cable industry convention. The message he had to deliver was startling.

Basically, it was that the future of that industry isn’t in content – TV shows, if you will – but rather in building the biggest and fastest and best broadband network possible. Put all your effort into putting more optical fiber into the ground was his message. Earn your living primarily by selling capacity on the broadband pipe, not from trying to sell content.

While his missive was aimed at the cable TV industry, it also has reverberations – positive reverberations – for the VoIP industry. The reason should be obvious: the better the broadband available to VoIP users, the better the VoIP phone service that providers such as Phone.com can provide.

The message to the cable industry will also echo through the traditional telephone industry, since what we’re talking about here is good old competition. After all, if cable companies are evolving to be primarily broadband carriers, telephone companies are also moving in exactly the same direction as they lose more and more traditional phone users to Internet-based phone service, and businesses increasingly opt for the economies represented not only by lower phone bills, but also by the savings from virtual PBXes and other VoIP business phone services.

In the end, both industries will look pretty much the same, providing the pipe over which VoIP is carried along with video content and data. The fact that phone carriers tend to use DSL technology, and cable companies use DOCSIS to deliver broadband, is irrelevant to VoIP, since VoIP can work over any pipe that supports IP.

Hopefully, as the competition continues between the cable and phone companies to provide broadband, the competition will also stress better network quality of service. That’s a tricky sell to the consumer market, though, since it takes some technical knowledge beyond simply bragging about how fast service is. Indeed for VoIP, the speed race isn’t all that relevant, since VoIP uses fairly little bandwidth, but business VoIP users should be cognizant of the technical aspects of the service they are buying. Indeed, larger businesses often get service that comes with a guaranteed level of quality of service, a promise from their carrier that ensures the stability of their business VoIP service … or the carrier pays a penalty.

As a very small business I don’t get such guarantees, and looking at my quality of service, from Century Link, for the past month shows there’s still a long way for the industry to go. The average latency on my broadband service, for instance, was 52.26 ms, well above the 40 ms that’s supposed to be the standard level. Even worse, at one point my latency reached 2,586.35ms. That’s high enough to ensure that a VoIP conversation was impossible. Similarly, while average packet loss on my broadband lines was just 0.21% (Century’s Link’s service level standard is a maximum of 0.5%), at one point packet loss on my line spiked at 62.12%. From reports I’ve read about broadband service in general, from both cable and telco, my results aren’t unusual.