Last night I attended the Level 3 Communications Pacesetters dinner and VoIP industry discussion in Boston. During dinner, conversation centered on regulation. As one attendee put it, regulation is a "small dark cloud hovering over the horizon of this industry." Many in the VoIP industry seem resigned to the fact that regulation is coming and are actively working to counter the lobbying apparatus of the established wireline carriers. Most VoIP companies, however, are at a great disadvantage and will have to work doubly hard to make up for lost time.
After an enjoyable meal we turned to a panel discussion on the status of the VoIP industry, which I had the pleasure of moderating. Our panel consisted of Charles Meyers, Group VP of Marketing, Level 3; Ragui Kamel, SVP and General Manager, AOL Voice Services; Bryan Martin, CEO, 8x8; Richard Grange, President and CEO, NGT; and John Butz, Director of Product Management, Comcast.
Three themes emerged during our panel:
SIP is not simple
The first is that SIP deployments are much more difficult than the industry once said they would be. Speakers stressed that no two VoIP networks or SIP deployments are the same, echoing similar concerns voiced by speakers at wVoIP 2005 last week in San Jose. It is quickly becoming apparent that SIP is not the answer to everything and that much work needs to be done to turn this technology into a universal, industry-wide standard.
Demands are high
Another theme, likely prompted by recent regulatory rumblings at both the state and federal levels, was the lack of redundancy in many VoIP services. Consumers and regulators are demanding more from VoIP services and service providers and vendors are scrambling to complete the transformation of IP telephony into a carrier-class service.
Customers have different needs
The third theme is that consumers and enterprises have very different needs.
Consumers are interested both in cost savings and in new services. Comcast's John Butz stressed that his company is marketing voice, and that Comcast shuns the term "VoIP." By turning voice into service, Comcast is using IP telephony to effectively steal market share from the wireline carriers.
Enterprises, on the other hand, are interested in different issues. As Richard Grange of NGT put it, "SMEs are looking at VoIP to control monthly recurring costs and to help them with telecom total cost of ownership."
The panel became more heated after we opened up to questions from the audience. One question in particular focused on the need for more open access and ownership of the "last mile." There was obvious tension between the Comcast and AOL speakers, whose companies have last mile access, and the VoIP wholesalers and vendors, who do not.
I want to thank Level 3 Communications and our attendees last night for a great dinner and discussion. - Stephen