Yes, I said EVOLUTION, not revolution.
Skype announced the launch of their VoIP program for the iPhone and will do the same for RIM's BlackBerry in May. Well the media got a wiff of that one and immediately realized that voice communication will never be the same. They are right, but only missed the revolution by almost 2 years.
For those who follow me here, or know me, the following sentence is a bit of an understatement. I have more than a few cell phones that I can use on a daily basis. I tell you this because all but a couple are capable of doing mobile Voice of Internet Protocol (mVoIP).
My two year old Nokia N95 has a built in SIP client (mVoIP program) and works with any SIP enabled VoIP solution. I have it configured with a hosted VoIP provider here in Minnesota and can make calls over WiFi or cellular networks. My N95 has been replaced with a newer Nokia E71 that can do all of the mVoIP stuff the N95 could do in a much cooler package.
My first mobile use of Skype was 5 years ago when it was introduced for Windows Mobile. Today I have Skype loaded on my Windows Mobile AT&T Tilt and my iPhone 3G. The iPhone version is smooth, but I prefer the Tilt since I can use it over AT&T's cellular network, which means I can use it wherever I go. I may be at the launch of the BlackBerry version, and plan to load and test it as soon as it is out.
So the media is getting all excited today about a phenomena that started almost 5 years ago. While mVoIP got its start in 2004, I contend that the revolution really started to roll in 2008 when T-Mobile launched their HotSpot@Home service. There are a few reasons I believe that T-Mobile's @Home service is the real revolution.
The media is focusing on Apple's unwillingness to open Skype to the cellular network. They are spewing unsubstantiated claims that the carriers are affraid of mVoIP because it will hurt their business. "mVoIP is going to kill voice revenue." Of course mVoIP will have a negative impact on voice revenue. This is no different than digital networks having a negative impact on the old analog networks. Heck, even cars had a negative impact on stable (horse stables) revenues. That's progress. That's opportunity. @Home is revolutionary because a national wireless carrier launched it for businesses and consumers. While the media blares the demise of the cellular industry because of mVoIP, some in the industry have already responded. T-Mobile recognized that mVoIP is not a threat, it is an opportunity to capture new business. Sure it may negatively impact voice revenue, but it is driving up T-Mobile's data revenue at the same time. It also has reduced T-Mobile's need to build expensive towers to fill in coverage in very small areas.
@Home is also revolutionary because of the lasting impact it will have. While the iPhone 3G was garnering all of the press attention, @Home's launch wasn't even greeted with the chirps of crickets. Because of the noticable lack of coverage for @Home's launch, future historian's are going to have bad days trying to explaine the fundamental shift in telecommunications it ushered in. While the iPhone represented some very innovative technologies and implimentations that garnered it well earned recognition, I contend that handsets will see many more shifts like this one in the future. The recognition that voice is just more bits of data on the cellular network and that treating voice as data can be monetized by a wireless carrier is a shift that will not be undone. Touch screen interfaces were around before the iPhone and will be long after the iPhone as well. As carriers move voice traffic into the realm of mobile data, they will not go back to the old archaic methods of moving voice anymore than they will bring back the analog networks of the late 80's.
The revolution started almost 5 years ago when Skype gave Windows Mobile users an alternative to traditional voice calls. Nokia advanced the revolution when it built another mVoIP capability into its handsets. And T-Mobile showed the rest of the telecom industry that the challenge can be met, and advanced if you take control of it yourself and not let the technology control you.
Apple, welcome to the revolution!