Still Got a Ways to Go
Recently, I was talking to my mother-in-law about VoIP. It came up because at her place of work, they are looking to replace their antiquated PBX with Asterisk. She works for a family member and I had planted that “seed” of an idea with that family member. In any case, I somehow got to the point where I was describing how PhoneGnome worked and how it might be a low-risk way of trying VoIP. I listed the various benefits and so on of the PhoneGnome product to her.
My wife interjected in this conversation. Her response was about what I expected–there are plenty of people like her that don’t want to mess with how they make phone calls. She knows how unreliable the Internet is and does not want her telephone to be as unreliable as the Internet connection. She wants the phone to “just work.” And this brought a much-needed reality check to my line of thinking.
The fact is, if I switched our home line over to VoIP, the cost savings would be minimal, at least from our point of view. Now granted, cutting our $50 phone bill in half is nothing to sneeze at. That $50 is about what the line, long distance, features, and taxes come out to (not including DSL charges). Yes, I realize I could cut further depending on which provider I chose, but that’s not the point. Lets assume for the sake of argument I went with a VoIP provider that cost me roughly $25.
Now granted, that $25 per month savings in my hypothethical example is nothing to sneeze at for a lot of people. In some cases, the savings can be much greater than that. But is the possibility of that savings worth it?
The perception that my wife has, and many other people share, is that the Internet isn’t reliable. Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant. If people believe something is true, it might as well be true. By saving $25 and switching to VoIP, the thought is that there is increased risk of not getting dial tone when the phone is picked up. Even if there’s dial tone, will the call complete? What will the quality be like? These are certainties that, at least for my wife, are not worth “saving” $25 (or more) to potentially experience.
Now granted the fine folks at PhoneGnome have gone to great lengths to make this as transparent and painless as possible for people. Many consumer-grade VoIP services have gone thru similar lengths to make their service “just work.” But the fact is, in the eyes of the many, it’s not enough. Those of us who have experienced outages with various service providers know that stuff happens and things just don’t work for one reason or another. As an early adopter, I can accept the occasional issue. People like my wife cannot.
I think VoIP as it is being marketed today is a hard-sell to most people. Yes, there is obvious cost benefit and yes you might get some better features than you get on the PSTN. But that’s mostly arbitrage. Arbitrage might get you in the front door with some consumers, but until we can addressed the reliability issues and/or come up with THE KILLER APP for VoIP, it’s going to remain a niche technology. Either that or it will be transparently subsumed into our landline voice service.
I’d love to hear what people’s thoughts are on what it will take to convinces the masses to kill their PSTN line and go VoIP.