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Friday, September 23, 2005

IP Telephony Doesn't Mean Phones

In my previous entry Takeaways from VON, I commented that Voice over IP doesn't mean IP telephones on desktops, but rather, simply: Voice over IP. That of course translates to anywhere IP can go, voice can go. Hence, if IP can go to a computer, so can voice - and with software phones, there is no need for the physical handset to sit on a desktop.

In fact, the handset is an anchor for mobility. If you rely on the handset, you are no longer allowed to experience the true mobility that VoIP can offer. Recently, I've started relying solely on my IP Communicator (Cisco software phone) rather than my desktop 7970. I've had no issues - other than the headset being rather odd instead of the usual phone handset. The only reason I keep the 7970 connected is to get the video provided with VT Advantage as this is not yet supported on the IP Communicator client.

As I sent an email to Cisco asking when a future VT Advantage/IP Communicator integration will happen, I found myself wondering if it ever would. It doesn’t make good business sense for a company that sells hardware IP phones (among other things) to integrate their software offerings such that they eliminate the need for the hardware. I’m quite sure IP telephones do not make a substantial contribution to Cisco’s bottom line, but with the latest announcements for IP phone rollouts, 60,000 7970 phones passed over for cheap software would make quite a dent in a salesman’s pocket.

The barrier for entry into the VoIP realm for a vendor is substantially lower if the vendor realizes they do not need to produce an actual hardware phone. Software development alone is much cheaper than the hardware and software development needed for a hardware platform not to mention the associated manufacturing costs that are surpassed in favor of a software only solution. Take Microsoft’s Live Communication Server (LCS) client – at VON, this seemed to be the software phone of the future (without expressly saying so). Microsoft doesn’t make an IP phone nor do they manufacture servers for IP PBX’s; however, they don’t plan on missing out on the VoIP market.

While the fact remains that most end users appreciate the comfort of a hardware handset (even I still find myself reaching for the 7970 occasionally), as convergence enables multiple modes of communication from the computer itself, the phone will logically (and physically) move there. Even if I did still use the 7970, I don’t need to actually dial numbers as I have a select and dial application that automatically connects my handset to a dialed number without me lifting a finger (except to click the mouse button). With the ability to launch instant messaging or video from the computer desktop, the telephony integration occurs with more ease in the same space.

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