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Are We Seeing Balkanization of Voice or the Consolidation of It?

Session Initiation ProtocolImage via Wikipedia

Back in 1999 when I was wet behind the ears, and just getting into voice and VoIP, Jacob Tirosh, then the founder and CEO of Comgates, an Israel based softswitch developer gave me a lesson in protocol. TDM, h.323, Megaco and SIP he proffered all needed to be interoperable, and the softswitch had to manage all that went on, as the brain of the communications mix. Well softswitches and media gateways still play a major role in making sure IP calls can talk to the PSTN world, but those days are drawing to a close as the world gets more and more IP centric. Back then we had competing protocols. Now we have competing brands using simplicty and features as the difference, but where the community of users is being divided by, you guessed it, technology.

What we are seeing is the rise again of voice (and to a bigger extent video) Balkanization, something former Skype UK executive Michael Jackson's tweet, and a post by telecom disruptor Pat Phelan drew my thoughts to surrounding upstarts Viber and Tango. In his tweet Jackson sounds a wake-up call to Skype to buy up pieces of the competitive landscape to not lose the ground it gained by having others take it away in pieces. Hence, the use of the term Balkanization here.

I agree. With their move to embrace SIP, Skype is the ideal company to bring so much thats un-aligned together. Their work with Avaya will really be the first push in that sector, as I'm already aware of at least two live customer trials they are doing via the SIP based voice and video communications company which came about because of the parental role Silver Lake Partners, the investor in both Skype and Avaya plays. Those trials, and more are designed to help propel Skype more deeply into the lucrative enterprise market, where the money made becomes more predictable. 

Unfortunately, as Jackson has realized, that dream quickly fragments as more and more players enter the game, carving up the market and making being reached more and more difficult as technical barriers are either erected or more layers are put into the communications mix. That will result in more jobs at Skype for engineering and business development.

For the end user or business telecommunications decisionmaker having lots of choices becomes a far cry from the single source we basically all had in the 1980s, but with competing standards things become a real mess.  Let's take video conferencing and calling. Very little of it interops easily with one another, yet SIP could be that neutral ground, and smartly Skype decided years back to be SIP interoperable at its core.

Skype can either buy Viber, or duplicate the features and simplicity Viber has implemented. That's the same with Tango, which has simplified cross platform video calling on iPhone's and Androids but not solved the desktop issue any more than FaceTime has. Skype grasped the interoperable need on video device platforms and addressed in their most recent iPhone update, but it's not yet there on Android, nor Windows Mobile, and thus the concern. For communications technology to be non-Balkanized, companies need to role out simultaneously on all leading platforms otherwise you have pockets of usage, but not fullscale adoption.



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