Executives and market watchers surveying the voice-over-IP space insist that integrated communications applications, not cost savings, will drive future adoption of the technology among consumers.
Meeting at the Fall VON conference here last week, a range of experts, and some users, agreed that emerging Internet telephony applications will persuade consumers to embrace VOIP.
David Beckemeyer, former chief technology officer at Atlanta-based ISP EarthLink Inc., said that a new generation of VOIP tools will drive a majority of that growth.
"Most people in the U.S. already feel that phone calls are cheap enough; building new applications that allow them to have more control over their communications services is the key," Beckemeyer said.
According to Beckemeyer—now founder and CEO of TelEvolution Inc., in Danville, Calif., which markets a telephone adapter known as the PhoneGnome that allows consumers to receive both Internet and traditional calls over broadband connections—it will be the new capabilities driven by such tools that spur more people to consider VOIP.
For instance, PhoneGnome, and VOIP services offered by much larger rivals such as America Online Inc., Skype Technologies S.A. and Vonage Holdings Corp., boast the ability for VOIP customers to transfer voice mail to e-mail, screen for telemarketers and launch three-way calls.
For its part, AOL, of Dulles, Va., introduced at the conference its new TotalTalk VOIP offering, which displayed several of the applications that technology providers are hyping as the future for such services.
Using the systems Web interface, customers can build profiles of the people they communicate with and blend contact information across AOLs various messaging systems.
Richard Evans, one of the few users walking the trade shows floors, agreed that those types of tools, not the promise of savings, will cause him to decide which VOIP services to purchase in the future.
"Thats the really exciting part of all this, seeing these vendors start to take VOIP beyond a cost-savings thing and make it into something that blows away the products that you can go out and buy today," said Evans, a computer programmer.
Brad Garlinghouse, vice president of communications products for Yahoo Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., criticized reports predicting the imminent demise of existing carrier networks at the hands of VOIP technologies.
"The death of the PSTN [Public Switched Telephone Network] has been greatly exaggerated, and it will continue to be integral to the U.S. communications industry," said Garlinghouse.
Matt Hines is a senior writer for eWEEK.com.