TIME writes about the growth is voice-over-IP:
Welcome to a world in which the phone becomes a computer, and the computer a phone. VOIP technology allows the transport of voice, data and video over the same network. And as the various kinds of communications become intertwined, the sum is greater than the parts. Eight years after its introduction, VOIP is having its moment. Indeed, 2004 is sure to be the year in which the technology hits prime time.
We’re now entering the second phase of IP telephony, one in which companies can not only save money by consolidating voice and data traffic on one network but also reap productivity gains that would have been impossible in the past. Industries with heavier information needs financial services, health care, retail have been quicker to adopt the technology, but industry observers say the benefits are just too great for any holdouts to remain that way for long.
The Holy Grail of IP telephony is a new breed of application that will improve information flow within an organization and with its customers and suppliers. When calls come in to customer-service reps at Harley-Davidson, for example, custom IP telephony software from Cisco automatically brings up on the reps’ screens information relevant to the callers such as recent purchasing or repair activity. That has improved the reps’ efficiency as well as the quality of customer interaction.
Another plus: cost savings. Reid Engstrom, director of information services for the motorcycle maker, which is based in Milwaukee, Wis., predicts savings of $550,000 a year in staffing costs from that increased productivity and savings of $1.3 million annually from improvements like reducing warranty costs through earlier resolution of problems.
IP telephony also aims to collapse the proliferation of communications gadgets clogging the pockets and purses of our mobile work force into a single seamless stream of information.
Unified messaging software, for example, allows mobile workers to access all their voice-mail, e-mail and fax messages through one channel by phone, through an e-mail account or on the Web.
Another new breed of software called presence-aware applications understands where and how to contact employees at all times.
Companies are also excited about the prospects for improved “collaboration,” particularly on conference calls. Several browser-based interfaces engendered by VOIP have turned these enduring hassles of corporate life into mere point-and-click exercises. It’s now possible to initiate a conference call merely by clicking on contact names in a browser all over local or wide-area networks.
On a related note, News.com has an interview with Niklas Zennstrom, Skype’s CEO, on its VoIP ambitions.