VoIP in ’04

Every year it's the same formula. Jan. 1 rolls around, the pundits become Swamis and predict away. Who wins the Oscar? Who wins the most Olympic medals? Blah blah blah. Yes, it's predictable. But news is slow now and even Voxilla needs a gimmick. So here are our Top-10 predictions for VoIP in the year to come. Look into your crystal ball and post your own.

It's a predictable formula.

A new year comes around, and the pundits do their lists.

They look back at last year: Top-10 films (any critic who doesn't include American Splendor and Lost In Translation here is brain dead); the best albums (Lucinda Williams' World Without Tears is our top choice); the top news stories (What can possibly best the invasion of Iraq?); the top tech stories (yep, the Year of VoIP); and whatever happened to? (weapons of mass destruction?).

Then they look at the coming year: Oscar, Grammy, Tony winners (snore); baseball's MVPs (Barry and A-Rod again); politics (Arnold gets bored, resigns, returns to Hollywood and gropes away; Jesse Ventura moves to California and runs for guv; Bin Laden and Tupac appear together in a video; Bush and Blair invade Iceland, France complains; Ashcroft calls for replacing the First Amendment with the New Testament); technology (Linux goes mainstream – again; Dell to sell kitchen appliances; RIAA sues anyone who has ever touched a keyboard; Bill Gates donates $1,000 to fight homelessness; Real Networks and About.com sendmail servers explode after sending out several million too many spam messages).

Yes, it's a gimmick. But the holidays mean there's not much news to report. So why not look ahead and present our own decidedly unobjective list?

Here are our Top-Ten predictions for VoIP in '04:

1. The industry shakedown begins. Look for the big boys (AT&T and the cable cos.) to start swallowing up the independent VoIP providers. And don't be surprised if some of the independents merge to compete more effectively when the corporate VoIP onslaught ensues. Most likely to be eaten first: Packet8 (how long can a VoIP company survive charging less than $20 a customer?).

2. Many new VoIP enabled routers hit the market. Following Motorola's and DLink's leads, Linksys, Cisco, Netgear, Zyxel, SMVC and others release new products with VoIP ports, QOS and firewall.

3. Asterisk hits it big.Committed users of the terrific open source PBX-plus software develop easy-to-follow installation and configuration menus. Asterisk installations by small businesses and SOHO and home users will soar. Asterisk-to-asterisk networks, bypassing the Bells and even VoIP providers, begin to take shape.

4. Proliferation of low-cost feature-packed IP Phones. Look for multi-line VoIP-enabled phones, complete with LCDs, speaker phones and headsets, to sell for about $100. New product prediction: An IP-based cordless system (a-la Siemens Gigaset and Panasonic KX series) is released. Head unit connects to Ethernet, each of the satellite cordless units is independently addressable.

5. A temporary solution to the 9-1-1 dilemma (for those who keep a landline around). New VoIP telephone adaptors will include ports that connect to PSTN lines. All 9-1-1 calls are automatically routed through this port, no matter their origination.

6. International area codes arrive in the U.S. In 2003, VoIP users around the world snapped up phone service with U.S.-based area codes. Look for the reverse to begin in earnest in '04 – European, Asian and Latin American area codes will be in use in IP phones in the U.S.

7. Wireless phones and VoIP begin to converge. This already started in '03, albeit with pricey and feature-limited products from Cisco and Pulver Innovations. Start look for Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Motorola to begin offering VoIP capabilities on their handsets. The use of SD cards and Wifi on cell phones emerges. In a hot-spot, use VoIP; out of range, use your cell.

8. VoIP providers get smarter. Watch for the more innovative services to interconnect, bypassing the PSTN altogether. Example: Vonage to VoicePulse calls will be IP only, resulting in reduced call termination fees for each company. More companies, realizing that many users don't want to be stuck with limited technologies (i.e.: Vonage's Motorola box), will allow consumers to bring their own equipment. More Pay-As-You-Go plans emerge as consumers take advantage of VoIP's portability and to share services with friends, family and neighbors.

9. Broadband service providers up their uplink speeds. As VoIP use and consumer demand grow, watch for broadband internet service providers to offer higher upload speeds (768 Kbps or more) on DSL and cable modem plans.

10. FCC steps in on regulation. Watch for FCC Chair Michael Powell to lead an effort to block patchy sets of state regulations over VoIP by imposing a basic set of rules on VoIP providers, thereby making voice the first internet application to be regulated.

So . . . what do you predict? Post your comments.