In 1995 a small company called Vocaltec, Inc. came up with a revolutionary idea. People could use their computers to talk to each other real-time, instead of using regular telephones. By 2000, the new technology only accounted for 3% of all voice calls and VoIP was just entering the mass market consciousness. Early retailers of VoIP technology struggled to convince buyers that a ‘packetized’ transmission of voice through the internet would be as reliable and cost effective as traditional circuit-switching on existing networks. However, they succeeded - by 2003, 25% of voice calls were made using VoIP.
Today, VoIP is as common as regular phone lines in business, especially in high call volume businesses such as call centers. The technology allows consumers to bypass the long-distance calling tolls of traditional telephone systems. In Africa, VoIP allows phone calls where traditional service is not available or unreliable.
Now that VoIP is an everyday technology, the question becomes â€“ what’s next?
The biggest possibilities for the next disruptive innovation in business telecomm are network function virtualization (NFV) and it cousin, software defined networking (SDN). NFV allows telecom companies to save enormous amounts of money on equipment by creating virtual network functions, or VNFs, and link them together to deliver user functions in a virtual network. SDN is a related technology that developed from work done at the University of California, Berkeley, around 2008. SDN specifies network services without needing specific network interfaces to run the services. This allows it to work seamlessly with NFV to help control the programming that runs through the virtual networks.
Existing bandwidth and powerful Intel processors have already laid the groundwork for the wide adoption of these new technologies, and there are many advantages to NFV and SDN. By using virtual networks and programming, buyers can make decisions about where their equipment is located based on practicality and cost. SDN allows dramatic increases in the agility of network programming and data transmission. In addition, SDN can replace a host of stand-alone firewalls and software security systems by replacing them with systems that run on the network operating system. NFV and SDN also help address the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomena by allowing device controls to be more granular while improving security.
NFV network operators and owners will gain many benefits of software telecommunication companies â€“ lower capital and operational expenditures than their legacy peers, more ad hoc resources for service need spikes, and the ability to roll out new software offerings faster to capitalize on needs in the market.
NFV will create a major competitive advantage to early adopters on both the provider and consumer sides. Just as with VoIP, where a three-year span saw a dramatic increase in adoption, NFV and SDN are nearing their tipping point.