VON Visions: VoIP–A Life Saver!!
Once again in a disaster resilient connectivity has showed it's value. It allows anyone to contribute to the solution. Tradiitional networks create brittle dependencies because the business model requires that everything be captures and billed. Can we really afford to put ourselves in peril to conform to an obsolete business model that exists only because of a regulatorium that disserves us?07-Dec-2005

In itself VoIP is not a big deal. But it puts you in control–you can solve your own problems. You can save lives!

To investors VoIP is very exciting because it looks like another version of a big books telecommunications industry. For consumers it’s a welcome alternative to the stranglehold of traditional telephony even if many VoIP providers are wannabee Telcos.

VoIP may be a minor application but it’s the tiny hole in the dike that keeps the telephone network from being inundated by the exuberant free-for-all (not to be confused with free for all) of the Internet. But today such metaphors may be in questionable taste after the damage and deaths caused when real levees failed in New Orleans.

The differences between the traditional networks and the Internet become clear when the systems are stressed. Whereas the Internet continues to function when any path works, the traditional networks require that particular paths keep functioning. Your phone number depends upon which wire you are connected to. While cellular telephony is more flexible you are still dependent upon equipment provided by a phone company that supports the appropriate complex protocols. With the Internet anyone can extend the network.

To be fair, once the traditional phone equipment is deployed, you get full telephone service. You may manage to keep the Internet going or quickly deploy the network, but all you get are packets, oodles of them, and they are meaningless bits. You have to give them meaning and that’s wonderful. All you need to do is sprinkle some VoIP dust onto the network and you can talk! Unlike pixie dust, VoIP is real and anyone can get some!

The Internet gives us the raw materials to solve our own problems–we can all become contributors. You can use any device that supports a VoIP protocol or run the software on a general purpose device. You don’t have to make sure that they all use the same protocol as long as they can interconnect. A Skype user can speak to a Vonage user even if it means, for now, going through a double PSTN bridge. Kludges work, though eventually we do need to go back and clean up the mess.

You don’t even need to get very high quality. Voice is a very demanding application– if your local network isn’t up to it then you should just use messaging or email. While early VoIP phones might be styled after cellular phones with telephony being the defining application, we really need devices that can do telephony as an application. These are the personal computers of the future. An emergency worker needs more than just voice–it’s important to be able to connect and share information in many ways including messaging. Talk is fine but glancing at a message is often better.

Traditional Internet deployment is still beholden to the traditional model of telephony– wires radiating from a central office. Meshing is a more powerful idea. Local meshing still connects to the traditional Internet but it makes a whole neighborhood or city appear to be fixed connection while allowing flexibility and mobility. In an emergency you can simply blanket a city with connectivity and quickly set up your emergency services and start to collect data and connect people.

You can create communities and teams as necessary and reconfigure and overlap this. The relationships aren’t just defined by walkie-talkies tuned to an assigned frequency. This is not replacement technology – this is effective technology that we should be using all the time.

In a life and death situation it’s vital and necessary.

In day to day business it can be an essential tool for making an effective organization and then helping it stay effective as the organization itself learns.

Traditional telecommunications is about forcing us to be dependent upon people who deny us the ability to solve our own problems so we would have to buy their services. That’s outrageous and even deadly.

Connectivity is a fundamental resource– a utility. I don’t want to have to explain what I need before I figure it out. I need more than a choice of mandated solutions. It’s unconscionable to make us dependent upon others when we can solve our own problems. And all we get is telephony from the 1800s and E911 from the 1950s.

With connectivity we can all be problem solvers and contribute to the solutions. VoIP may not be exciting but it’s an essential part of a problem solving capability.

Lives may depend on it.