(Originally Posted on VoIPLoop.com - 10/5/05)
The folks at Wiley Publishing were kind enough to send me a preview copy of Timothy Kelly's "VoIP for Dummies" to review. This got me thinking, is VoIP still a mystery?
Last week's Newsweek had a story about the eBay acquisition of Skype in which they quote a Harris poll showing that only 13% of the public knew what VoIP was (10% thought it was a Vodka). So despite all the media and vendor hype, the vast majority of the public has no idea what VoIP is. If they don't know what it is, it becomes next to impossible for anyone to market a service on the basis that it's VoIP, which is why residential services are often marketed simply as lower-cost broadband-based replacements for existing telephone services. Of course, since folks don't understand what VoIP is, they aren't aware of the limitations (e.g. QoS/E-911), thus we get things like federal mandates to cut off VoIP users who don't sign letters stating that they understand 911 limitations.
So what does the lack of awareness of VoIP mean for enterprises? It likely means that enterprise users aren't aware of the real value of VoIP, and thus aren't asking for VoIP-enabled services such as presence, unified messaging, and softphone capabilities as much as they probably ought to be. It likely explains why I continually find that large enterprises are way behind where I expected them to be in their VoIP deployments, and why saving money continues to be the primary justification for deployment rather than new applications and improved user experience.
Thus there continues to be a need for end-user education of not only what VoIP is, but what IP communications can enable in general. Things like presence, unified communications that integrate IM, voice, video and conferencing. The benefits of VoIP need to be sold, not as just a like-for-like replacement of existing telephony systems, but as a new platform for the enablement of advanced IP communications. The IT departments and those responsible for voice services likely understand these capabilities, but absent a strong demand from end-users, service deployment will continue to be slow in coming.