Is the future of voice everywhere — or nowhere?
Voice calling embedded in Gmail, and increasingly in a variety of mobile apps, could put a dent in traditional wireline voice calling – if it weren’t already dying.
I’m amazed by the amount of attention Google’s rather clunky integration (if you didn’t know it was there, you’d surely miss it) of voice-over-IP calling into its Gmail e-mail service is getting.
The Fool.com said Google “just killed landline phones.” Slate.com trumpeted that Google had “brought the home phone back!” CNET reported that Gmail users made 1 million voice calls the first day the service was available.
All of that attention comes, of course, in large part because it’s Google we’re talking about. But the Web’s other poster child, Facebook, has had widgets that enable some form of embeddable voice calling for some time now, and those have never really taken off. Nor did the variety of services – once known as the “J-boys,” led by Jaxtr, Jangl and Jajah) – that launched Web-embeddable voice calling as far back as two years ago.
Yet, even as all these voice Web widgets met with mostly disinterest from users, voice calling on wireline phones was eroding rapidly.
Did voice Web widgets kill wireline calling? Clearly no. Early efforts weren’t successful enough to really make a dent. The economy has clearly been the biggest driver of wireline cord-cutting (most often with the alternative being a wireless phone, not VoIP).
Did the overall disinterest in voice Web widgets actually reflect and mirror the growing disinterest in using – and paying for – a home wired phone? Probably to some extent, yes. People in general just seem less interest in talking and more interested in e-mailing, texting and “facebooking.”
So what’s the future of voice? Clearly, it’s not a growth business from a revenue perspective. Margins on traditional TDM or now semi-traditional digital voice or VoIP services are tight. Web-based and over-the-top Skype-style voice calling is a low-per-minute-cost business as well, a close cousin in the end to the calling card rackets.
So is voice calling over, done, nowhere?
I think the answer is no.
More likely, voice calling (or perhaps more accurately, voice communications) will more likely be *everywhere*. It just won’t be in the form we’ve come to expect: a piece of telephone hardware at the end of a hardwired phone line.
So to that end, voice-via-Gmail actually is an important step forward. It’s just that it’s no more or less important than a variety of other new services that treat voice as yet another data object to be carried over today’s IP networks, including mobile VoIP apps, or voice embedded in gaming systems, or video calling apps ranging from Apple’s FaceTime to Chatroulette.
Will such services truly run undifferentiated and “over-the-top” – or will telecom service providers’ more intelligent networks provide guaranteed service paths – for a fee? – for some portion of these real-time voice services?
We’ll leave that very crucial question – one that could result in voice revenues not completely evaporating but merely shifting – for another day. For now, it’s enough to simply watch and speculate about the many, many places voice communications will likely turn up.
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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