Web 2.0: Telephone as a platform

Web 2.0: Telephone as a platform

: Om Malik — who knows his stuff in this arena — runs the panel and asks Vonage and AT&T whether there is a price war and the real mark of the commoditization of voice.

Jeffrey Citron, founder of Vonage, said the concepts of distance or locality are, of course, meaningless in VOIP. “Pure talking is probably going to become commoditized,” he says but argues that there are advanced features on VOIP. “We’ve freed voice from the confines of the transmission system.”

Hossein Eslambolchi of AT&T says its nothing new to have competitors who push prices down. But he makes a subtle jab at Citron about companies that really make money. Citron infamously said recently that Vonage is profitable if you don’t count marketing. Well, uh, marketing is the cost structure of the company. EBITDAM will not take off as a new accounting standard.

Eslambolchi also talks about features — they call it SOIP for services over IP.

Man, they sound like airlines trying to argue over who has the better bagel.

Mike McCue of Tellme says there has to be an opening of the telephone as a platform so anyone can write any application for any telephone. Yup. “What’s missing right now is the equivalent of HTML for the telephone… I think that HTML for the telephone is VoiceXML…. The killer aps are very clear: voicemail… 411…” He’s doing at elections application, calling a number and hearing what the candidates say and then chatting with other people on the network.

Om says that the pipe has been decoupled from the content, in that vision. That’s what Vonage has done, for example. That, too, is what made the web grow, of course: content was separated from presentation and wire.

There’s considerable back-and-forth between Vonage and AT&T as a war of teh centuries.

Marc Canter tells them what the consumer wants: “We want to interoperate between VOIP systems.” Mr. Tellme says the VOIP companies are operating like old telecom.

This is just like yesterday’s discussion about lock-in: efforts to lock-in customers will piss off customers.

To repeat:

Jarvis’ First Law: Give the people control of media, they will use it.

The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose.

McCue tells the phone companies, AT&T and Vonage, to open up their billing system so somebody who invents a great voicemail system can sell it to consumers, who can use it anywhere. “That’s the kind of business-model innovation that has to happen to unlock the telephone as a platform.”