For the first interview in the series, I looked to Phone.com CEO Ari Rabban.
Ari is an IP communications industry veteran, with specific expertise in the start-up environment, moving companies from concept to operation. Ari joined Phone.com from Pulver Ventures, an incubator for new IT companies. Previously, Ari served as vice president of corporate development and marketing for VocalTec Communications, the VoIP market pioneer and developer of the first internet phone. During his tenure at VocalTec he served as president of two subsidiaries that were ultimately spun out: Surf&Call Solutions, one of the initial voice-enhanced e-commerce solutions companies, and Truly Global Inc., a web based communications service. Ari joined VocalTec from Lucent Technologies.
Now that you know a little more about Ari, let’s take a look at what he sees coming in the near future.
Mobile VoIP was one sector of the industry that really took off in 2008, what sector(s) do you think will take off or see tremendous growth in 2009?
Mobile VoIP – 2008 was only phase I. It took off but primarily still within the industry. We can go back almost a decade now to know it took several years of saying: “pc 2 pc services took off” until Skype really did it, or fast forward 2-3 years until Vonage became a household name or Cisco IP Phones for IP PBXs etc. Mobile VoIP is also to large a category and we need to distinguish between wifi phones to G4 cell phones to enterprise services that are truly mobile. We still don’t have cordless phones in offices. That will be one test in the enterprise world.
I also think that hosted services for the enterprise market will become more and more popular with small business. The quality and reliability perception, the price savings, extra features and the “relaxing” back up capabilities will make it easier for small business owners to decide on that direction.
Who are the VoIP companies to watch over the next six to twelve months? Who will have the hottest products and or will be releasing the most innovative or game changing services?
T-Mobile in the US is trying to take a voip direction to distinguish itself and may come out a winner. Similarly with Sprint who may be an early leader with innovative wifi / wimax services.
Skype and Vonage are still both major players and both have not come out with any big news in the last couple of years. Vonage is not done yet and has a strong base to work with and with mobile voip we can be sure skype will come out with something that will get it right!
As for start ups making a splash – unfortunately we are witnessing several of the potential innovators laying off or shutting down (EQO, Talk Plus, Jaxtr, Jangl, even Fring downsized) but Jajah seems like if found a large audience to fit near Skype and I believe Fring will find its ways as Mobile VoIP indeed continues to evolve.
What consumer and or business market segments or verticals are the looking the most attractive for VoIP companies over the next six months to a year?
The MSOs should continue their growth and penetration into RBOC accounts.
We will see more SOHOs taking advantage of VoIP as they realize the reliability issues are not a problem anymore and the cost savings and value added features are a big benefit for their operations and budgets.
On the innovation side: indeed more mobile VoIP offerings will be in use on cell phones. As of today, other than “industry insiders” how many people do you really know that use VoIP on their mobile phone?
I don’t know of any. Do you foresee any sizeable shifts in the type of businesses that will be potentially migrating to VoIP in the next six months to a year? Are they the same as this year or will they be different?
We have reached a point where migration is continues and in the normal pace of business. PBXs will continue to migrate to IP in natural progress, same for home phone lines (MSOs, FIOS, U-Verse etc all use some form of VoIP). The main new shift we can see is mobile VoIP but as I mentioned, this should be much more appropriate for 2010.
Some feel the VoIP industry will actually benefit from a recession, since consumers and businesses will be looking for low cost alternatives, while some feel that the industry will feel pain as well since many will look to put off technology and infrastructure improvements until more certain times, what’s your take?
I will leave it for the financial analysts to forecast the financial impacts to the industry as reflected by the publicly traded industry bell-weathers, however, I agree that there is good opportunity for the VoIP industry when it comes to individuals, homes and small business decision making. When cost savings mean ever so more, VoIP based phone services for bother home and business are a great way to save money and as I mentioned earlier, the industry is maturing to a point where there is very little concern with quality and reliability plus the value added applications are a great benefit. Add these to a cheaper soluti and we can see why the shift to VoIP in a tough market is happening. We certainly feel it at our company and from discussions with colleagues and competitors alike I know they see it.
We should however distinguish between established offerings and new unproven innovations that will still take time to penetrate the market, just as VoIP home phone service or a hosted PBX took time.
Based on your answer to number 5, what advice you offer to companies in the VoIP industry for the next year? What are you doing to make sure that your company continues to grow?
Much depends on where the company is in its growth cycles. Every investor will talk about conserving cash and pushing sales. For early stage ventures still in product development phase the latter may not be applicable but for the more advanced I would recommend balancing innovation and development of new products or services with the need to sell more of what you know works!
With the number of open source telephony platforms continuing to grow each month it seems, will open source telephony continue to grow in importance and prominence during 2009?
Yes. The segment is not only growing it is also getting better and scalable and easier to deploy. The small business market is so big and with so many sub-segments that there will be room, and need, for many different offerings.
Will 2009 finally be the year that Unified Communications see a big “adoption rate” increase?
Not in 2009, perhaps 2010. It really depends on how we define Unified Communications but when we look at the true game change it is the ability to truly have one number and / or truly have one phone and have all calendars and contact lists synchronized easily. I don’t see the general public using one phone in the office and taking it with them (or just shifting to their mobile device) with a click of a button and keep all the features and functions they had at their desk. I still don’t see all mediums converting. All the tools are available and sophisticated users can enjoy it but my definition for “big adoption rate” is the general public and it will take at least one more year. Phone.com offers a complete Virtual PBX with many aspects of Unified Communications “overlay” – we address a certain segment of the market (sole proprietors / SOHOs etc)only and we have only reached a very small part of that market. It will take more time.
This last one is open to any thoughts, predictions or ideas that you may have about the near future of VoIP.
The success of a lot of the innovation will depend on some good old government and regulatory help (both in the US and elsewhere). Whether it is opening up spectrums to free use or not preventing international mobile VoIP services will have a big impact on reducing the cost of international roaming and taking advantage of many new VoIP based apps for mobile phones. With a new FCC administration coming, the US can expect some changes and we will need to see how they unfold and whether we will see the changes in 2009.
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