According to a survey by Infonetics Research as referenced by UC Strategies, the VoIP industry grew by about 9% between 2011 and 2012, which amounts to about $63 billion in additional revenue. Most of the growth, according to the article, was in the SIP industry as SIP sales increased by 83% and hosted PBX sales stayed stable.
Other articles and reserach reports have reported massive growth in the mobile VoIP industry. According to Juniper Research, mobile VoIP users will reach 1 billion by 2017. From these numbers, it's clear that the telecom industry is changing in some pretty big ways, and customers and VoIP professionals should expect a changing playing field before the end of the decade.
Where VoIP Came From
VoIP was debuted in 1995 by a small company in Israel. At that time, VoIP could only be used for calling between two people using the same VoIP program on their PCs. Since that time, VoIP has quickly grown into a major cornerstone of the telecom industry, and many people now use VoIP for their regular landline phone servce.
VoIP plans are available in residential, small-, medium-, large-, and industry-scale business versions. Different VoIP plans have differnet features, capabilities, and levels of customer support. Residential plans cost between $5 and $10/month, while business plans cost between $10 and $25/month per extension. Most residential plans are hosted, or managed VoIP, although some providers like Ooma offer residential VoIP solutions that involve some in-house hardware.
Business owners can choose between hosted VoIP plans, SIP trunk plans (which require some in-house support), and hybrid plans.
Sales in hosted VoIP have somewhat stabilized, as the article in UC Strategies suggests. Some specualte that the reasons that VoIP sales have slowed are related to the folllowing:
People are not familiar with "VoIP": People recognize VoIP service in the guise of Skype or Google Hang-Out, but few are familar with the term "VoIP". As a result, the term "VoIP" has been forced into a niche for people who are familiar with technology, and know to go about looking VoIP up. This failure to popularize the term or the technology has lead to a general public that does not have easy access to the full information behind their telecom service.
Lots of people only use VoIP for free calling, not for regular service: The study by Juniper Research not only suggests that mobile VoIP use will grow, but also that customers will continue to primarily or only use VoIP for free VoIP-to-VoIP calling. VoIP providers make their money when customers use their service to call people who do not use that same service, so Juniper Research has theorized that VoIP providers may find further ways to monetize their mobile VoIP apps. This may mean increased limitations and restrictions on free VoIP service.
VoIP in a State of Change
So what can we expect from VoIP in the future? Right now, there are some major changes going on behind the scenes of the telecom industry that predict a massively different picture of the future of VoIP.
For example, in the US, much of our internal telecom network is already made up of VoIP switches. However, that information is not really advertised, and so many people do not realize how much of their telecom system already depends on VoIP. In the coming years, legislators have proposed that the FCC and telecoms should prepare to shut down the PSTN. The PSTN (public switched telephone network) is a broad name for all of the systems components that make up the traditional telephone network. However, an increasingly small number of telecom customers still use traditional telecom service, so the demand for the PSTN is shrinking.
The argument for closing the PSTN is that most people now depend primarily on a VoIP line or a cell phone rarther than a traditional landline. And on top of that, it is actually much cheaper for telecom providers to offer VoIP than it is for them to continue to provide analog connectivity, so many major telecoms, including providers like AT&T and Verizon are in favor of the move towards VoIP and cellular systems.
Simultaneously, the FCC is facing new questions about the proper status of VoIP as a telecom service. Historically, VoIP has popularly been considered an information service, but in truth, VoIP should really fall somewhere between a telecom and an information service. The FCC's standing regulatory measures would be narrow and limiting if applied to VoIP because VoIP is so differnet from traditional telecoms. However, with the national telecom structure changing, the most logical course of action is for the FCC to reconsider what is considered a telecom service and to apply individualized rules such that analog, cellular, and VoIP service providers are all handled uniquely.
It is almost certain that the FCC will shortly settle on some new measures for regulating VoIP. These measures should prevent larger telecoms from forming monopolies, and should prevent any VoIP provider from treating customers in an unfair or discriminatory manner. It will also protect customers from unsafe standards for E911 connectivity, and will ensure that all customers can expect a seamless transition to VoIP.
In many countries, governments are already struggling to determine how to control VoIP service. It is apparent that VoIP service should be a regular and accessible service, but until the companies can be supervised and monitored by government bodies, governments do not want to allow VoIP providers to offer service. This may shortly mean difficult things for popular VoIP providers who want to maintain service in France and the UAE.
VoIP in the Future
It's clear that the telecom world is changing, and it is difficult to know what to expect from any service provider in the near future. However, a few forthcoming changes are fairly apparent.
It seems likely that in the coming years, VoIP providers will begin to focus more heavily on their mobile platforms. As VoIP has quickly risen to replace the traditional analog landline phone, it seems very likely that the next step will be to invade the territory of cellular providers. Today, people can download VoIP apps, either free ones or ones included with their regular monthly service, and use them for free or cheap calling as long as they have access to an Internet connection. So, whenver people can use their 3G/4G, or public or private WiFi, they can use their VoIP app for free calling instead of their cellular minute plan. And if they can use public or private WiFi, they don't even have to use their data plan.
And right now, many people want to improve national access to public WiFi, but naturally many telco giants are staunchly opposed to developments in better public WiFi as that could represent a significant threat to their monetizing voice service.
However, public demand for public WiFi is pretty strong, so it seems likely that we will move in that direction. However, as Juniper Research predicts, voice data providers will likely find new ways to monetize mobile apps. This may mean further limitations on free calling through VoIP apps, but it is difficult to know.
And in the immediate future, VoIP providers may begin to emphasize their SIP service. Right now, most providers focus on hosted service, but if sales in SIP service are consistent, providers may encourage the sales of their SIP service.
Whatever the small changes may be, it seems fairly certain that in the coming years, we can count on a mostly if not entirely VoIP internal network. And for both customers and providers, this will be a good thing.