Ronald Gruia (and others for that matter) have written quite a bit about the VOIP showdown, which looks imminent. Off late Jeff has a focussed on the need for quality in VOIP service, something that is known in Dependable Computing as the Five 9s problem. The question Ronald asked was a very relevant one - How reliable should VOIP be? Considering that mobile phones (in UK atleast) have an availability of 97-98%. In response Om Malik posted a with-all-due-respect post, with a figure: 100 %. There are just two problems with this - I think it might be unnecessary and secondly, it might prove to be impossible. Let me analyse why it might be unnecessary. At this point of time atleast, VOIP is partly an early adopter product. But more importantly, it is a PIGS method. PIGS for all the non-desi’s stands for Poor Indian Graduate Student, however it can just as easily be generalised to anyone else..iff they are limited in their communication expenditure but not in their need. It is enough for a person like that to be able to say “hi ma”. In such cases, if I am the VOIP company, it becomes important to me to get to market as fast as possible and achieve sufficient penetration. Of course, granted that for most corporate use this might be somewhat of a problem. But then I dont see corporate users switching to VOIP en masse just yet. Consider this brilliant post by Tom Evslin about the problem of too much quality. About AT&T and mobile phones, he says
The six nines song deafened the company to the fact that consumers would trade quality for mobility
. Now, I would like to rephrase Evslin’s law
The six nines problem may lead a company to alter its expectation of consumer expectation
. As Om Malik says “I have argued about the ease of use and reliablity before. VoIP continues to fail the mom test.”. However, reliability and human-interface problems are orthogonal to each other. Consider what might happen if Apple decides to make iSpeak and jump into the VOIP arena - that would solve the “mom test”. But would it need to solve the 5 nines problem? Is doing this impossible? Bob Cringeley certainly seems to think so. Existing backbone providers might start traffic shaping to allow their own packets higher priority than, say a company like Vonage. But I’m happy if backbone providers give me 6 9s service. But as Bob, puts it in his later post, increasing demands on media content will result in the backbone networks being clogged. He suggests that media companies adopt a higher-latency download-and-play mechanism for media to free up bandwidth for low-latency VOIP, but let me pose a question - can Vonage wait that long? or can a student in California wait that long, to be able to afford calling Delhi?