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May 24, 2007

Verizon Wireless Allows VoIP

The headline of this post is true and the fact is significant; but the implications are less than they might be.  The terms of service for Verizon Wireless Data Service (aka EVDO) do NOT forbid its use for VoIP even though they used to.  Apparently (not verified by me) at&t (nee Cingular nee AT&T) does still forbid VoIP through its terms of service for its competing plan although I’ve never heard anyone complain that at&t actually ever blocked any VoIP on its wireless data service.

Neither ata&t nor Verizon actually allows you to make a VoIP call using your cellphone as the handset.  Both companies cripple the WiFi connectivity in the cellphones they resell.  Both companies have plenty of reason to fear that VoIP (especially combined with WiFi) will both take much of the profit out of their so-far healthy and growing wireless voice business and accelerate the decline of their wireline voice business.

But Verizon does permit a computer using Verizon Wireless for connection to the Internet through a cellphone or a PC card to run VoIP applications over that connection.  According to C. Lincoln (Link) Hoewing, Vice President of Internet and Technology Issues for Verizon, the carrier decided to change its policy and permit VoIP because this is what customers wanted.  Pretty good reason.

So is there no reason to worry about a neutral Internet?  Will carriers always respond to what the customers want including open access to competitive service providers?  Not so fast.  Remember, at&t and Verizon actually compete for wireless customers.  They pretty much stay out of each other’s territory as far as retail wireline customers are concerned.  They don’t really compete in offering DSL or fiber to the home or the vaunted triple play.  But they compete head to head on prime time TV and in almost every other US marketing venue for wireless customers.

Even this competition, however, has not led to the use of VoIP to make calls from mobile handsets sold by these carriers.

Nevertheless, even this small difference, suggests how helpful real competition would be in assuring both a neutral and a very capable Internet.

BTW, Link Hoewing deserves a hat tip for grace under fire.  He was the sole traditional carrier representative at a roundtable on Disruptive Communications hosted by Fortune Magazine and ably led by crack analyst Daniel Berninger and Fortune Senior Writer Stephanie Mehta.  Link both conducted himself superbly and represented his company ably.  Some of us were sometimes less than kind (to the company).

There Won’t Be Any Landlines in 2013 is about the threat mobile plus WiFi poses to the copper landline business.

Beyond WiFi is about my probably then-unsanctioned use of Skype over Verizon EVDO – and how good the quality was.

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