12 Voice Predictions for 2012

With 2012 quickly approaching, I figured I’d dust-off the old crystal ball and make a few predictions regarding the world of voice telephony over the coming year.

1. Mayan long-count calendar will be re-set to 2018

To the dismay of the hoards who had anticipated the final day next year (as preliminarily predicted by the Maya), December 21st will be just another day. Instead, the FCC will follow the recommendation to set a date of 2018 for a transition from the PSTN to an all IP Network.

While there are technological and commercial implications for providers (non-trivial routing and inter-carrier compensation changes need to occur), as I mentioned previously, the sky is not falling because people won’t stop calling. Maybe what we need is a new name for the PSTN replacement. I propose we start calling it something futuristic like the United Federation of Platforms.

 

2. Occupy your PBX movement

While SIP adoption is growing true UC deployments are still at a nascent stage. A generous estimate would be to say 5% of business users have UC. In this information age, that leaves a large number of knowledge workers wanting a more equitable telecommunications experience.

I predict these UC have-nots –the other 95%, as it were– will revolt and start a movement to demand a better telecommunications experience.

Alright, so it may not be as dramatic as that, however, the consumerization of IT does mean more users self-providing UC components, increasing the strain on IT managers to do something about the number of rogue apps which are de-facto supported. This dynamic should increase pressure to deploy UC and accelerate SIP Trunking adoption in oh-twelve.

 

3. Greater focus on security after contact center voice recordings are compromised

An often overlooked component of voice services is security. Phreaking, the telephony world’s term for phone fraud, has been around longer than I have, however it has not achieved the notoriety of younger sibling, hacking. Sure, it surfaces as an issue from time to time but even large scale PBX fraud only warrants a footnote. But what if such a breach were to compromise a contact center’s voice recordings?

Contact centers routinely record callers for quality assurance, regulatory purposes and, increasingly, to conduct analysis on caller behavior and improve their services. In many cases, these recordings reside on servers in a company’s datacenter. A security breach of these recordings would expose sensitive information from callers (names, account numbers, passwords or any information an agent might require to verify your identity). Such an attack, compromising thousands, or millions, might make the headlines (and benefit folks like us who provide secure cloud-based recording for contact centers :)

 

4. T-mobile ATT deal collapse results in DBS voice strategy for growth

One does not have to go out on a limb to suggest that AT&T and T-Mobile won’t didn’t become one company. But if the deal is not the template for things to come, what implications does it have for other players?

It would likely rule-out a DirecTV + Dish combo. If this happens, Dish  might use its prime wireless spectrum to deliver a triple play to customers. If they build a 4G network, unencumbered by separate voice and data networks, then they could change the game on wireless plans. Without an embedded base to worry about, they could become the first wireless player to truly view voice as just another application on their data network.

 

5. Unified Communications goes mobile

Mention UC and pretty soon mobility comes to mind. But mobility comes in degrees and full mobility requires more than just the ability to use your laptop as a phone or redirect calls to your smartphone. A truly mobile experience requires a mobile client to use the smartphone’s data network for voice calling (I hear good things of the Microsoft Lync mobile client coming-out next year). It requires a single phone number for fixed and mobile calling and the ability to send and receive SMS messages regardless of where you are or what device you’re using. It requires the ability to make emergency calls on the go. In 2012 all of these capabilities will combine to provide a truly mobile UC experience.

 

6. Improvements in UC will signal the beginning of the end for UC

I tend to agree with folks who say UC will soon be irrelevant. Now, before you fetch your pitchforks and light your torches, let me explain myself. If you read the arguments being made, what they’re really saying is UC will evolve. They’re saying the devices will change (duh!), functionality will improve (yes!), and, given our propensity for giving newer things different names than their predecessors, we probably won’t be calling the new and improved capabilities UC 2.0. That said, I do think it will take more than a year for folks to start calling it something else.

 

7. Cloudy with a chance of UC

With clouds of all shapes and sizes crowding the network skies and given the ubiquitous ownership of smart phones among knowledge workers, companies are asking the obvious question: should the cloudy forecast include voice? If a cloud can be trusted with mission critical applications (and fixed voice has, if anything, become less mission critical), then getting rid of that gear in the basement should be an easy decision. As with data, voice clouds will come in various flavors matching companies’ security, cost and control requirements. 2011 saw many announcements and I think 2012 will see adoption rates start to catch-up with they hype. Large enterprises will move to private UC clouds, smaller companies will start moving to the growing number of shared, multi-tenant UC clouds.

 

8. Lync goes mainstream

I recently read an interesting blog post talking about Lync’s weaknesses. My cliff notes would go something like this: Lync has been around (in several incarnations) for eight years. Yes it’s better now, however it does not have the right logos signed and Microsoft has not been willing to go to the mat to defend it (choosing, instead to hedge by saying its other UC components can be used with other IP-PBXs). By this reasoning, the only real chink in the armor is the lack of large reference customers. I predict this chink will be mended next year with several large customer deployments (with their respective white papers).

 

9. Voice goes social

With Google voice integration to Google Plus, Facebook will not want to be left behind. The question is whether their voice and video chat using a white label Skype solution is sufficient. If I were given the opportunity to start some unfounded rumors, which would I ignite? Will they try to get into the wild world of wireless though an acquisition? Will they acquire companies with intellectual property in VoIP and deploy robust peer-to-peer calling within Facebook? Will they federate with other voice providers? And to what degree will social media users embrace the use of voice? While I don’t believe the social media experience will fundamentally change next year, I do believe the foundations will be set for more voice communications to happen.

 

10. Microsoft does something with Skype

Having paid over $8 Billion, Microsoft must obviously be planning to incorporate the largest international voice carrier into other lines of business. 2012 will see a renewed effort to monetize Skype. Increased emphasis on Skype-out PSTN calling? Receiving calls from the PSTN via Skype-in? Xbox Live integration to drive more adoption? Integration with Lync? Leverage intellectual property in other arenas? All of the above.

Perhaps more interesting (in my humble opinion) is the notion of incorporating Skype into Office 365 for small business calling as well as providing contact centers the ability to receive inbound calling via a Skype ID. Just sayin’.

 

11. Voice saves the bricks and mortar star

When my colleague Len Zeleznyak channeled The Buggles to speak of online killing the bricks and mortar star, he spoke with nostalgia for the end of an era and optimism for the future. Among his examples, he cited the centralized warehousing, distribution and consistent experience of Amazon.com which literally bankrupted Borders Bookstore.

A similar trend is afoot when it comes to the ability to centralize and provide a consistent experience for callers to physical environments. Except, this trend could inject new life into bricks-and-mortar businesses. Storefront integration provides the ability for your contact center to receive your bank branches’ or pizza shops’ local calls (at an affordable price) the same way you would a toll-free number (same control, same features, same experience). Specialized call takers reducing costs and providing a consistently positive customer experience combined with nostalgia just might inject new life into old school business next year.

 

12. The year of the killer voice app

In this, the age of apps, there are several cool apps that involve voice. Telephony apps such as Line2 allow you to use any wireless data connection to do voice calling and text messaging (all with a sleek interface). Texting and messaging apps such as Text Plus allow your kid’s iPod to pretend like it’s a phone (and a freemium model worthy of any household teen). Speech recognition apps –Siri comes with the latest iPhone, but if you have an older version you can download an app like Vlingo. So that’s it, right? Perhaps. Then again, I’ve always believed a killer voice app would come along some day. What’s that app going to be? Well, if I knew I’d be sure to keep it a secret whilst I tried to get me some venture capital.

And it appears the battery on my crystal ball has run-out of juice. That said, I probably missed some obvious prediction (or predicted something with which you disagree). Fortunately, you have the power to remedy this situation in the comments section. What is your prediction for 2012?

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JP Gonzalez

Formally, I’m responsible for our global wholesale voice product portfolio here at Level 3. Informally, I’m that guy that started the Friday donut club.

5 thoughts on “12 Voice Predictions for 2012

  1. I agree with #6. I often try to get away with using lower case letters when I write “unified communications” but they still get capitalized before publication. Soon, we won’t feel the need to capitalize them anymore.

    • Indeed. The changes being contemplated will most-likely result in a net-positive impact to consumers, so I agree we ought to use positive language (I like the word you used, “renewal”) rather than words like “sunset” which have a nostalgic ring to them, imply the end of an era and leave us uneasy about what’s to come.

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