If you want to start a buzz in the IT world these days, it seems all you have to do is take a known technology and stick a "2.0" label on it. Coined by Tim O'Reilly, Web 2.0 is easily the most recognizable example, as it pertains to the so-called second generation of Web-based applications and services.
As the concept gained popularity, it was inevitable that the industry would find new technologies to apply the "2.0" concept to (just as "next-generation" was a popular label a few years back). So now we have Voice 2.0, which sounds a lot more exciting than plain, old voice over IP.
But what does Voice 2.0 really mean? As with much of the terminology in the tech business, it can depend on whom you ask.
Is it just a fancy term for VoIP?
In December 2006, Paul Kretkowski tackled the question on the VoIP News Web site. He concluded that Voice 2.0 is "an umbrella term for a loosely defined set of technologies and ideas that let people transmit voice, data, video and instant messages via IP, anytime, from anywhere."
Does that sound a lot like VoIP itself? Well, yes -- and no. Kretkowski'sdefinition encompasses a lot more than phone calls; in fact, it sounds a lot like the definition of another popular buzzword -- unified communications.
Telephony in a converging world
There's little doubt that convergence (yet another buzzword!) is the way of the future. Users want to be able to access all of their communications -- phone messages, e-mail, text messages, faxes -- quickly and easily from one interface, whether they're at their office workstations, using their home desktop computers, sitting in a hotel room or airport with their laptops, or checking their handheld mobile devices in the back seat of a cab.
Thus, convergence is an important element of Voice 2.0. Convergence can take several forms, and one of the most widely anticipated is Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC), the ultimate goal of which is complete integration of landline, VoIP, and cellular services.
I'm one of many folks who's looking forward to that. I currently have three separate phone services: a PSTN line from AT&T, a VoIP line from Lingo, and a cell phone account with Verizon Wireless. I've got redundancy in case of an outage, but what I don't have is integration.
Wouldn't it be nice if I could have one phone number that could use whichever of those technologies is most appropriate and cost-effective at the time? At home, that might be the landline service. When I'm out on the road, that same number would ring my mobile phone, which would use VoIP if I were in range of an 802.11 network or switch over to the more expensive cellular service if I weren't.
Ending the war between VoIP and traditional telephony
All this convergence changes the previously adversarial relationship between VoIP and traditional telephony. No longer will they be competitors -- instead, they'll work together to provide users with a better overall communications experience.
Earlier this month on the VoIP News Web site, Robert Poe wrote that one big advantage of Voice 2.0 will be the ability to own your phone number and use it with any type of service or any provider that you want. No longer will your phone company be able to hold you hostage because you don't want to endure the hassle of changing your number. This goes a lot further than the number portability that we (sometimes) have today.
Voice 2.0 in practice
Voice 2.0 isn't just a bright idea (or ideal) for the future; it's with us today. Perhaps the most talked about Voice 2.0 service is GrandCentral, acquired by Google in July 2007.
Here's how it works: You get one phone number that will ring any or all of your phones (home, work, cellular). It's intelligent enough to route calls from different callers to different locations, so if you want Aunt Mary's calls to ring on your home phone but not at work, you can do that.
You can also screen calls and listen in before accepting a call. This goes beyond caller ID, giving you back the advantage of an old-fashioned answering machine so you can listen to your voice mail as it's recorded -- and pick up the call (or not) as you wish.
Another answering machine feature that many of us missed when we switched to a voice mail service was the ability to record your calls. (Both parties hear an announcement when you begin recording.) You can forward these recorded messages to yourself via e-mail and keep them as long as you want.
It also includes standard VoIP features such as the ability to get your voice mail notifications via e-mail or SMS, standard business features such as the ability to forward calls to another number, and standard cell phone features such as customized rings for different callers. You can even put a Call button on your Web site so people can call you with a click (and without you having to reveal your phone number to them).
Perhaps one of the most exciting features is the ability to switch from cell phone to landline or vice versa -- without hanging up the call. Just press the star [*] button during the call, your other phones will ring, and you can pick up the one you want to use.
That means if, for instance, you're talking on your landline and need to leave the house but want to continue talking, you can switch the call over to your cell phone. Or if you're on the cell phone and your battery gets low or you arrive home and don't want to keep using precious minutes, you can switch the call over to the landline. You can even access the service from Web-enabled mobile devices.
VoIP is a big part of Voice 2.0, but Voice 2.0 is about more than just VoIP. If it works out as planned, the future of telephony will mean a brave new world where all your phone lines come together in peace.
Deb Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. She currently specializes in security issues and Microsoft products, and she has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) status in Windows Server Security.
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