It’s not Just About Arbitrage
Alec Saunders picked up on my lament why there was little “different” in the VoIP space and gave an excellent explanation why. And the answer is fairly obvious, though the reasons for it aren’t necessarily obvious.
One thing I forgot about in my lament is that one thing that VoIP is definitely doing is giving people back control of their telecommunications future. Even if we are in a commodity phase, feeling “in control” is a big thing for a significant percentage of the population. The example that comes to mind is Jeff, a relative of my wife’s whom needed to move his office and wanted to replace his antiquated PBX with something different. I ultimately turned him on to Asterisk, Linksys SPA-941 phones, and Linksys SPA-3000s to bring his PSTN lines into Asterisk. I had suggested that he gut his old system, use an old PC he had and load Asterisk@Home on it. I suggested he use VoIP for outbound calling to save a bundle on long distance–he was complaining about his phone bills with Qwest as well.
Now on the surface, this looks like nothing more than arbitrage, albeit in more than one manner. I have to agree arbitrage is a driver that will convince a percentage of the population to try a new technology. There are plenty of cheapskates in this world. However, there is more than just arbitrage here. Originally when I had talked to Jeff, I had suggested different IP phones than the SPA-941s. That’s because this conversation has been ongoing for a few months now and the technology is different. If he was still working on it a few months later, I might suggest a different device instead of Asterisk. Or maybe a different VoIP provider.
Back when AT&T was the phone company in the US, you couldn’t get a telephone handset from anyone but AT&T or an approved supplier. You couldn’t run an extra extension in your house unless you got their approval. Now with everything telecom, even with VoIP gear, it’s mostly interoperable. You can mix and match components to meet your needs and budgetary constraints. That also a bit of an arbitage play, but it ultimately comes down to the fact you have choices–lots of them!
The fact that prices are going down and the gear is mix and match to a large degree means you can choose to throw a system together however you want. You can control as much of the process as you’d like. The gear doesn’t necessarily have to come from a single vendor. You can even deploy open source software in the mix. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to use it, though you might need some help from some smarter folks to get it set up and working right. And therein lies at least one way to extract some extra money out of this “commodity” play.