Change will come from a broad variety of sources as the industry evolves.
All kinds of companies will be agents of VoIP change in 2008. They'll range from high-tech giants to low-budget startups. They'll be in the hardware, software and services businesses, and they'll be in spaces that are none — or all — of the above. Here are 10 companies that represent the range of change-makers. Together, they provide a good idea of where the VoIP business is going this year. Interestingly, as we put the list together, they seemed to almost naturally sort themselves into similar or contrasting pairs, which is the way we'll present them. Perhaps it just goes to show: In a dynamic and evolving market, creativity loves company.
Vonage and 8x8 Inc.: The coming year will make clear whether Internet VoIP pioneer Vonage will begin to thrive or continue to struggle. It has resolved its legal woes stemming from patent-infringement litigation, including a lawsuit by Nortel Networks that cropped up in December. But its payments to AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless, amounting to some $200 million or more, will make it all that much harder for Vonage to compete as a low-cost provider of consumer VoIP services, especially given its high churn rate and cost of acquiring customers. 8x8, for its part, started avoiding Vonage's mistakes before most of the world knew they were mistakes. It developed its own technology from the start and focused on small-business customers before the conventional wisdom pronounced consumer VoIP a shaky business. It has integrated its Packet8 hosted-VoIP offering with CRM and hosted call-center services, giving small companies big-business capabilities — all the right moves for the emerging era of small-business VoIP.
Digium Inc. and Fonality: The lively rivalry between these two open-source leaders should continue into 2008. Digium has been particularly active as of late. It acquired Switchvox in September, then turned around and offered both hosted and free editions of Switchvox software. In August, Fonality offered new Pro editions of the trixbox version of Asterisk, which came with free Internet calling between any of its users via the newly introduced trixNet service. Look for the competition to heat up even more over the coming year as small businesses' interest in IP telephony expands.
JAJAH and Rebtel: JAJAH and Rebtel, the two Web-activated VoIP providers, are trying to find their way out of the discount-calling trap. Both start by letting you log on to their Web sites and enter your landline or mobile number, as well as the overseas one you want to reach. They then set up local calls in both locations and connect the two via cheap long-distance VoIP links. But even while refining their services to make them more convenient, the companies need to offer more than just low rates. JAJAH took steps in the right direction in 2007, developing an "advertising engine" that lets users hear ads overlaid on ringtones. It also struck a deal to provide both its international-calling and advertising capabilities to Jangl Inc. (below), taking advantage of that company's ties with social networks to offer services that fit users' interests and needs. Look for more interesting deals from these two over the next year as they strive to expand their horizons.
Jangl and Jaxtr Inc.: These two click-to-call companies see the key to success as integration with social networks, and they provide not just low-priced calling but also calling that happens the right way and at the right time, with the perfect combination of convenience, context and privacy protection. In fact, in its deal with Jajah (above), Jangl effectively outsourced the international-calling function. That lets it concentrate on building relationships with social-network users, based on efforts such as its tie-up with Facebook last May. Jaxtr, for its part, works hard to make it easy for users to add widgets to sites such as Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and MySpace.com. The pair may be the best bet yet to make integrated VoIP popular among large numbers of online social networkers.
Microsoft and ShoreTel Inc.: This pair is a study in contrasts, but both have the goal of bringing IP telephony to all kinds of businesses that didn't have it before. Software giant Microsoft wants to use its Office Communications Server to make voice just another software application that runs on corporate servers. Tiny ShoreTel, which went public in July, wants to deliver IP PBX functionality on ultrareliable hardware it designed using all solid-state storage, to eliminate the reliability hazards of server-based solutions. How the two approaches fare in 2008 will tell us a lot about how seriously the proliferation of Microsoft's vision of VoIP will threaten the future of the stand-alone PBX.