Has VoIP Gone Mainstream?

December 29, 2006 by Garrett Smith

I Don’t Think So

Ken Camp points to a CIO today article on VoIP in the Enterprise as validation of his claim that VoIP has gone mainstream. While I agree that VoIP has emerged from relative obscurity this year, I do not think VoIP has gone mainstream as a form of business or residential communication. Maybe this has something to do with a difference of opinion when it comes to what mainstream means. Let me explain…

So What Does Mainstream Mean?

According to Wikipedia, Mainstream is, generally, the common current of thought of the majority. It is a term most often applied in the arts (i.e., music, literature, and performance). This includes:

* something that is ordinary or usual;
* something that is familiar to the masses;
* something that is available to the general public.

Using this definition, it is obvious that there is a lot of grey area surrounding what mainstream means, but with grey area comes debate and a need for further examination!

Here is Why VoIP is Not Mainstream Yet

To start, VoIP is still not ordinary or usual as a means of business or residential communication. With only 7.9% of US households using VoIP, and less then 25% of small medium business using VoIP, it is obvious that VoIP is gaining momentum, but it is certainly not an ordinary or usual means of communication for the majority of individuals. In fact these percentages suggest that right now VoIP is unusual!

I do not have up to the minute statistics on how familiar VoIP is to the masses, but earlier this year, there were reports that 50% of Americans surveyed knew of or heard about making telephone calls over the Internet. Knowing of and hearing of, I suppose, is a form of familiarity, but is 50% really enough to characterize true mainstream familiarity? I mean how many people know what an iPod is?

Yes, VoIP is available to the general public, but only the general public that has broadband Internet access. Currently only 52% of US households have broadband Internet access. Is 52% of all households enough to consider VoIP as available to the general public? Yes and No. I believe VoIP truly is available to the general public, as there are no regulated restrictions on the service, but from a purist point of view, if only half the people can actually use the service, well then, quite possibly, some would say it is not.

2007: The Year VoIP Goes Mainstream?

There is no doubt that VoIP and business VoIP has come a long way in 2006. I believe the advances that have been made this year and the momentum of the industry will make 2007 the true banner year for VoIP. The biggest challenge facing VoIP and its mainstream ambitions are the fact that yes VoIP scales, yes VoIP is reliable, but not all of the time. The “all of the time” factor is what is keeping VoIP from truly being a mainstream service. Think about other true mainstream devices, gadgets, services, etc. Are they “all the time” or just “most of the time”? Until VoIP can prove to majority that it is an “all the time” service, it will continue to be an emerging niche holding the promise of mainstream viability.

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