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Spring VoN 2004 is almost over, and after walking the conference floor, I am convinced about two things – there is too much hype around the technology. Secondly, the Instant Message clients are becoming incredibly important and will be the eventual winners in the VoIP sweepstakes. This epiphany came standing at the Microsoft booth. The Barons of Redmond have finally realized that the MSN Instant Messaging software is the stealth Softphone client on every desktop. Ralph Poole posted this in comments, and he does a good job of explaining the Microsoft strategy.
They have created the backend infrastructure elements, they have nurtured a number of vendors who have created VoIP applications, and Messenger is the required platform for VoIP on the desktop. I think that their strategy has been well executed up to now.
This is where I say, Skype who? As Aswath explained earlier Skype, in order to offer premium services will have to pretty much build a network infrastructure to drop and pick calls from the PSTN network. I think Microsofties will convince a lot of cable companies, phone companies and wireless carriers to play ball. Their argument: hey we will drop calls on your network which means usage of the network. Carriers can use a sales pitch that goes something like this: For $9.95 you can make unlimited phone calls to all your friends on MSN. All incoming calls free. I think you get what I am getting at.
I think AOL will finally figure this out – sooner or later. I think between ICQ and AOL IM, Time Warner (my employer) is sitting on a huge goldmine and with some simple upgrades can turn these clients into Skype-killas. Apple’s IChat is another example of a client waiting to become a phone interface.
Armed with just a microphone and a 56K modem Internet connection, you and your buddies can talk to each other with zero long distance charges, no matter how far apart you are. In fact, iChat AV is better than a telephone, since you can quickly see if your buddies are available, away or doing something else. Custom status messages make it a snap for you to effortlessly convey just the right message to your buddies. The result: no more games of phone tag and no need to leave a message.
The greatest advantage of these IM clients is that they are already sitting on our desktops, have been built for an IP-everywhere world, and are one upgrade away from becoming phones. (The real magic needs to happen at the back end!) We should start the clock ticking on Skype!