Photo by Benjamin Dada on Unsplash
Today it is common to find VoIP apps like Skype or WhatsApp on an average person’s phone, and it is normal for corporate contact centers to use VoIP technology. The internet can connect user to user for voice conversations with almost no packet loss, jitter, or lag and at a low cost.
However, it wasn’t always this way. The early days of VoIP were both an entrepreneurial struggle for startups to bring this technology to market, and an unbelievable technological challenge.
VocalTec and the InternetPhone
VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, refers to technology that uses the standard internet infrastructure (IP) to transfer audio call data rather than relying on traditional Public Switch Telephone Networks (PSTNs).
When the internet began to gain popularity in the early 90s, email and chat rooms were the dominant ways people communicated online. The technology to use the internet to conduct phone calls didn’t exist yet.
Until 1995, when Alan Cohen founded VocalTec. He aspired to use the current technology to make phone calls free over the internet, and he succeeded. Within a few years, he was partnering with Microsoft Netmeeting and developing new products. However, the first VoIP phone he launched, the InternetPhone, was not the success he hoped it would be. Although it was free to use, it played ads before and after phone calls, which users were not happy about.
It was also not as revolutionary as it might have been if it weren’t relying on the traditional PSTN infrastructure. At the time, internet connections were dial-up and relied on the same wires that normally transmitted phone calls – except that, due to low speeds, the quality was frequently worse.
The Expansion of Broadband
By the year 2000, broadband internet was spreading across North America and changing what was possible online. The updated hardware allowed for much faster speeds – the kind of speeds that are required for VoIP.
In 2003, Skype was launched. This service was initially started as a product related to the Kazaa file-sharing IP but quickly took off on its own merits. The earliest Skype services were voice only, but for a small monthly fee, it was possible to call out to and receive calls from PSTN-based phones, which was a huge step forward.
Skype later launched video calling, which made it a household name, but its initial growth established VoIP as a technology that could be relied upon for clear, reliable, and lag-free conversations over the internet.
After Skype’s success was apparent, the race to develop better VoIP applications began in earnest. In 2009, Google launched a voice calling service as a part of its Google+ suite. In the years that followed, dozens of competitors joined the field, from Facebook and Snapchat to WhatsApp and Signal.
This market also expanded significantly from private peer-to-peer communications to the widespread adoption of VoIP for businesses. Contact centers began to recognize that they could realize the same kind of savings that individuals could by switching over, and as they did, more business-facing companies came to market with VoIP solutions for every kind of business.
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Remote Work
Nothing has done more for remote work and distributed networking than the COVID-19 pandemic. Mandatory lockdowns around the world forced office workers to connect to the company network from home. Zoom emerged as a shorthand for video conferencing just like Skype had for VoIP calling ten years earlier.
As businesses were forced to develop processes for distributed work, they began to rely on distributed management software with VoIP capabilities like Slack and Monday.com. VoIP and video calling created an entirely new remote workplace experience for a huge portion of the workforce.
The Future of VoIP
In the current era, VoIP is quickly evolving to meet more people’s needs. The increasing diversity of VoIP services reflects the customizations and functionalities that customers are looking for. The future of VoIP is being created now as companies innovate with AI, more features, and improved integration with other services. The industry, which according to Persistence Market Research, will reach $194 billion globally by 2024, continues to grow.