Last night at the VoIP 2.0 IP Telephony Conference in Fort Lauderdale, I sipped on a club soda (no wine for me on school nights) where a representative of a leading VoIP hardware firm noticed my ZDNet badge.
Engaging me in conversation, the guy (who asked that his name and employer not be revealed) showed me his cellphone, and then asked me a question that I am sure many of you have asked yourselves.
"Why can't this cellphone be an all-in-one device," he asked me while sipping his beer, his wish that his cell could have a master set of buttons or even an on-screen control menu that would enable users like him to switch between cell, VoIP, Wi-Fi, and even act as an extension to his traditional land-line service when he is at home.
He then mentioned SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) as the magic straw that stirs the drink. The protocol is currently being used for voice and video conversations as well as IM. And as I will explain in a detailed SIP-specific post I will write tonight, SIP is at the core of IP Multimedia System, which is an architecture intended to allow next-gen integrated services.
Then we started talking about peering, and about open source, and the way in which devices could be built to toggle back and forth between access programs with just a couple of taps from the mobile user. "Wanna talk 'in' VoIP rather than cell?" Just go to your handset's Control menu and navigate to VoIP and click OK." That's the kind of world he envisions, and so do I.
We then started to talk about challenges to this (hate this word but it works) ubiquity. I started to talk about the entrenched, "protect our turf" attitude of big telecom's PSTN and cell providers, and how that vision of extracting fees from major byte generators (such as independent VoIP) makes the corporate type reach for the fee machine. Then, I spoke about how those who would be assessed these charges would cry foul, arguing for net neutrality.
The fellow I was conversing with came down solidly on the side of net neutrality, wondering why there was even an argument about this.
It was up to me to play big, fee-happy telecom's Devil's Advocate. I did so without believing in their arguments.
"Think of it this way I told him. On the Interstate, giant trucks pay more fees for carriage then do smaller trucks. That's because big trucks, over time, cause cracks in the highway that take money to fix."
Then he says, "but when Google sends video or voice over my BellSouth line, it isn't degrading my phone line."
"Yes, well, it could," I answered. If bandwidth resources go down because some big bandwidth hogs are suckin' up most of the available pipe - well, have you ever had clogged pipes at home? You can say that the situation is likely to repair itself a few seconds later, and unlike that highway, won't take a road crew to fix. But for that second your speed is degrading, well that's a crack in your high-speed access highway right there."
"Well, Russ, you have a point. I hadn't thought of it that way."
"Yes, but I just sketched out the scenario because I wanted to explain what big telecom was saying as a reason they might wish to enact and collect these fees.
"Well, maybe they will straighten all this out in Congress," he said.
"That's why everyone has lobbyists these days," I answered.