We hear more about cloud services all the time, so it's no surprise we're hearing more about cloud VoIP (voice over IP) services. But exactly what these are and how they differ from "traditional" carrier VoIP seems open to question.
According to at least one analyst, the term "cloud VoIP" may be hype, at least in some cases. "I think they're just cloudwashing," Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. , told me in an email today. "You can host VoIP (mostly UC/UCC) in the cloud."
Nolle refers to unified communications (UC), the technique of merging a variety of communication forms -- voicemail, voice calling, email, etc. -- into a single interface. Unified communications and collaboration (UCC) adds calendaring, conferencing, instant messaging, and similar services that allow business users to interact.
UC and UCC services have been available for a long time from carriers of all stripes. But cloud providers say their services are more flexible, more secure, and easier to use, thanks to the deployment of virtualization and other cloud facilitators.
There may be some substance here. At least one startup, 2600hz, claims to offer faster, easier, and more functional software for cloud providers to use in provisioning VoIP services. The distinction is the services created with 2600hz's open-source platform are more scalable and easier for third parties to control, according to one industry source. "Instead of paying a penny or so per minute to a VoIP company, businesses that want to add voice calling over the web to their social network, their app or their role-playing game just deploy this software and take care of it themselves," wrote Stacey Higginbotham of GigaOM.
Competitors to 2600hz include Asterisk, which is also billed as a framework on which VoIP services can be created. But Asterisk, an open-source group, doesn't promote its platform for cloud use. Digium, a company that offers free Asterisk software along with its own VoIP products, also does not promote cloud services.
Claims for cloud VoIP remain similarly uneven among carriers and equipment suppliers. Mitel Networks Corp. , for example, claims VoIP cloud services. But the carrier NTT Data, which recently opened a cloud services division, does not support VoIP, despite the fact that its parent, NTT, is a world leader in VoIP.
Despite inconsistencies, there are signs that cloud-based VoIP will increasingly be a promoted service. According to the market research firm Infonetics, global revenue for VoIP services totaled almost $58 billion in 2011, up 16 percent from a year earlier. At the same time, the firm says that demand for cloud-based services caused revenue for private branch exchange and UC services to grow 33 percent in 2011.
Bottom line? Expect VoIP offerings to move in as clouds, even if the services are similar to what came before.
— Mary Jander , Managing Editor, Internet Evolution