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2017 Lineup: VoIP Technology, Tools and Trends

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VoIP has become a familiar term and tool in global businesses. So much so that like Big Data and the cloud, it’s becoming a term you cannot escape.

A quick look at the market status stats below tells you why. The general outlook is very good indeed. But if you want to engage VoIP technology for your business, you probably face a challenge. You are probably gathering VoIP news and trends in bits and pieces from many sources.

This piecemeal data makes it difficult to track, understand and make decisions about VoIP technologies and performance. This article will ease that pain. I’ve gathered data from many sources. And I ask the same questions about many different tools and approaches to VoIP business communications:

  • Where is it now?
  • Where is it going?
  • What resources or changes in approach are required to harness its power for business?

This article is the first in a two-part overview of VoIP market performance and product commercialization status. Part 2 will provide an overview of VoIP technology and tools and how they have changed in a very short10 years. Future articles will get under the hood of specific technologies and show what makes VoIP such a business value powerhouse.

It’s Not Hype, It’s Real

You could call the VoIP story so far hype, except for one thing. It’s true.

Consumers (and more recently businesses) realized quickly that VoIP could make communications more efficient and deliver serious cost savings.

Regional Growth in Adoption Rates

So far, VoIP adoption has concentrated in the USA and Europe. The Big Three of VoIP use are:

  • The United States of America (more than 31 million subscribers)
  • Japan (28 million subscribers)
  • France (21 million subscribers)

Other technologically sophisticated countries are coming up fast in the VoIP adoption race. South Korea, Germany, China, Canada, Netherlands, Brazil and United Kingdom respectively complete the list of 10 largest VoIP market as measured by users.

Ninety percent of the global VoIP market still belongs to the developed countries. In the rest of the world, the view is not so rosy. The lack of nation-wide telecom infrastructure, low penetration of personal computers and a morass of restrictive laws have put a lid on VoIP services growth.

 

Adoption Rates Grow Like Crazy

But in countries where VoIP adoption growth is unrestricted, it really grows! For example:

  •  It’s projected that the VoIP services market will expand 10 percent every year until 2021.
  • The global mobile VoIP (mVoIP) market app market was valued at $37 billion in 2015. It is expected to grow at an impressive CAR of around 28 percent during the forecast period of 2016 to 2020.
  • The VoIP services market is expected to grow to $140 billion USD by the year 2021.

Drivers include:

  • Smartphone adoption, a major driver of VoIP growth, increased by 10% in The fastest growth came from the 45+ set. This growth stimulates huge investments in mobile infrastructure for faster and more robust business networks.
  • Adoption of the Internet of Things. This fast-growing global network of interconnected computers, telecom devices and sensors is being used for many mundane tasks. Things like fleet management, parking lot monitoring, outdoor and indoor lighting control, and security.
  • Interest in cloud-based unified communications. According to Information Week, 70 percent of companies indicated they have deployed UC in the cloud or plan to do so.
  • A high-priority given to employee collaboration. Sixty-two percent of survey respondents say improved employee collaboration is a top business driver for unified communications.

So, where does VoIP commercialization stand?

The VoIP Commercialization Story: Short but Dynamic

Although the VoIP market has many new entrants, it’s still rather young, about 10 years old.

What’s Available Now: VoIP services

A wide variety of VoIP features are easy to come by. Thirty, 50, up to 80 features (really!) are just a call away. A list of the basics looks like this:

  • Call routing
  • Call recording
  • Migration of your current numbers
  • Voicemail transcription
  • Software Phone
  • 24/7 Tech support
  • SIP phone support
  • Toll-Free options
  • Speed dial
  • SMS Messaging
  • E911 services
  • Group calling
  • Video Conferencing
  • Voicemail to Email

That’s a very standard lineup of features, which you can get from most VoIP providers. But there are others, which add a whipped cream and cherry to the meat-and-potatoes capabilities of the basics.

Here is another half-dozen features that can make doing business more efficient and pleasant on both sides of a business call.

  • Hoteling (switch all the properties of one IP phone to another.
  • Escape from queue lets callers stop waiting on hold without abandoning the call fully.
  • International virtual numbers, one or several phone number that also connect you to your main office.
  • Microsoft® Office integration,
  • Click to call, a widget you can insert into your web site
  • HD voice on your web site

These services show that some VoIP providers are getting the message: do everything to help businesses work more efficiently and value their customers. Get the details about these and other niche features here.

What’s Available Now: Mobile VoIP Apps

Mobile VoIP apps have a lot going for them. In addition to instant messaging, these apps often include video and unified communications capabilities. These apps enhance smartphone communication, connectivity, and entertainment capabilities, which exploit the full potential of mobile devices.

Drivers include:

  • Low data rates, inexpensive call rates, and the expected presence of robust 5G network infrastructure
  • Widespread adoption of social media applications.
  • Popularity of innovative and user-friendly VoIP applications including Skype, Viber, Line, and WhatsApp.
  • Increasing development of smartphone devices that are compatible with VoIP services.

 

Some Conditions Will Speed Up VoIP Adoption Rates…

Even with explosive adoption rates, current and future conditions are likely to accelerate VoIP product and service development.

  • Upcoming 5G technology. It is estimated that the 5G standards will result in data throughput approximately ten times faster than the prevailing 4G networks. This figure was a bit hard to believe, until I realized that the FCC opened almost 12 GHz of high-frequency bandwidth for all types of wireless broadband. This will put a tiger in the tank of VoIP developers, improve VoIP signal quality and limit jitter and connection troubles.
  • More mobile VoIP apps. Higher speeds and more stable, robust apps will improve in the areas of VoIP video and web conferencing. 4K and 8K video will be more widely used and deliver better pictures with fewer problems.

…And Others Might Slow Them Down

Yes, VoIP adoption has grown phenomenally, but there are speed bumps on the road to VoIP adoption. Three potential obstacles that are relevant in the next several years include:

  • Data security and privacy concerns. There have always been security concerns about cloud-based VoIP operations. But recent hacks and attacks have left all types of organizations increasingly concerned about fraud and data privacy. And there’s good reason—MyBroadband reports that 46 percent of illegally made calls involve VoIP technologies.

Some tech gurus have predicted that cloud-based VoIP operations could face more malicious attacks in 2017., VoIP providers will have to start investing even more in security. To counter potential attacks, enterprises have been using end-to-end security technologies such as firewall control, spam filtering, virus protection, web content monitoring and filtering, and VPN integration.

  • Regulatory changes. To the US Federal Communications Commission, VoIP has been a real head-scratcher. Are VoIP providers IT or telecom companies? Do VoIP services provide both IT and telecom services? The answer can make a big difference to VoIP providers and customers in the future.

VoIP peering is an important example. Peering involves fee agreements between retail service providers or VoIP hosts, wholesale carriers and local exchange carriers. VoIP providers use peering to cut costs by keeping calls within the VoIP environment end to end. This approach avoids tolls of standard communications systems.  Future FCC regulation changes could determine whether peering agreements continue in the years to come.

  • Potential network strain. Ah… the Internet of Things. More than 4 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2016. And 21 billion devices connected by 2020. That’s good news, right? Well, maybe.

If you are an IT exec assigned to keep your system in top condition, maybe not. After all, customers expect higher QoS, and those expectations can drain network mojo.

As a result, IT innovations geared towards reducing this strain and ensuring smooth connections will be coming our way soon. In theory, these offerings will avoid performance problems such as jitters, slow connectivity, weird noises and limited use of data-driven features.

Variations on the Theme of Quality Assurance

A quick look at VoIP provider ads makes it clear—services are being sold based on cost and features (capabilities). This approach ignores one important part of the business value equation—quality assurance.

But this seems to be changing. Forward-looking VoIP providers are paying more attention to quality assurance. This takes the form of

  • Adding the human element to provide fast, personalized customer service.
  • Managing quality of service (QoS) metrics to deliver a consistent product.

 

Is this trend real? As that 1974 classic film, All the President’s Men, advises, it’s useful to “follow the money.” Per TruTower, experts predict that IT budgets will shift more funds toward measuring end-user satisfaction of telecommunications solutions. This would drive critical factors such as service adoption, planning processes and strategic management.

The Call Center, Transformed

The old call center has changed and become the bright, modern contact center. The introduction of new, digital channels and communications methods such as email, online chat, in-app support, texting, and even chatbots made this transformation. Possible. The goal: create an omni-channel or cross-channel, experience for customers seeking support.

But, a recent telecom customer survey provides a gloomy picture of contact center users:

  • When customers get poor telecom service, 8 in 10 are willing to switch providers.
  • Less than half of the consumers surveyed were satisfied with their customer support experience.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of consumers still prefer agent-assisted support either by phone, chat or email.
  • Only 33% of consumers prefer self-service options.
  • Of customer service consumers surveyed, 72% expect companies to know their purchase history regardless of the channel used for communication.

Oh, no! All that investment in multi-channel support options, and hardly anyone wants to use them. What’s happening?

Consumers will use any channel or method they can to get quick customer support results.

 

Consumers simply want a quick fix. They will use any channel or method they need to get quick results. Why the phone? Survey respondents feel that phone support is the quickest way to reach their desired outcome. And, phone calls are more personal than other contact methods.

What do consumers want or need in customer service situations?

  • An easy way to jump from information gathering to problem solving. In other words, a VoIP-based way to integrate self-help options and agent-assisted channels.
  • Agents who know their purchase history and context. Regardless of sales channels, customers want agents to know where in the sales process they began when they asked for help. VoIP solutions can compile history and context data and make it visible to agents.

Potential VoIP Solutions

VoIP technology can provide the support history and context data that consumers crave. It can help businesses by using data that’s available.

Customers are awash in product-related data in the communication channels they already use. Mobile and web devices collect a lot of information that goes unused in support agent encounters. With VoIP, the future of online customer service could be something like this:

  • The website uses unified communications functionally that is integrated with the existing IVR in the UC as a service solution.
  • A customer with a problem logs on to the seller’s website support page.
  • She clicks the To Call Agent button on the UI.
  • Her request goes to the appropriate contact center agent.
  • All customer history- and context-related information loads directly into a CRM solution.
  • The agent has all relevant data available before the phone or chat session begins.

Keeping an Eye on Quality of Service

Quality of service (QoS) is another variation on quality assurance.  Tracking and managing QoS metrics are essential ways to master complex VoIP systems and processes.

For example, managing QoS metrics provides these essential capabilities:

  • SLA delivery. You can guarantee a specific level of performance by prioritizing traffic.
  • Consistent prioritization. Routing priorities don’t change. When there isn’t enough capacity to run everything at once, the highest-priority workloads get through first without slowing the system down.
  • Consistent enforcement of standards. Quality-related changes are enforced all the way to the end of the network path.

QoS Benefits to Cloud VoIP Users and Providers

Careful QoS management provides benefits to cloud services users and provider.

  • Users get predictable QoS policies that ensure good performance, and providers can deliver and enforce consistent VoIP services in their SLAs.
  • Well-managed QoS results in better call quality for VoIP apps and other bandwidth-heavy apps.

All these benefits lead straight to the ultimate business value target: greater user satisfaction and stronger, more lasting customer relationships.

Next Time: In Part 2 of our high-flying summary of VoIP trends, we get down into the guts of VoIP—the evolution of its technology, products and the expectations of people who use it.

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