Towards Nearly Free Voice

Rupert Murdoch says voice will soon be free, and so does eBay’s Meg Whitman. And even if you laugh of these non-telecom types procrastinations prognostications as wisdom of the novice, there are signs that they may not be that off the mark.

Especially if you are one of those, (who like me) believe that most of the major telecom trends start-out in Asia, and slowly roll their way across Europe before crossing the Atlantic, then by end of 2006 we should expect the rapid decline in the cost of voice to near zero. To be clear, we are not talking about PC-to-PC free minutes on an IM client, or Skype, but instead we are talking about long distance and local voice.

There are some early indications of Voice-prices heading south. Lets start in the East. Hong Kong-based Hong Kong Broadband recently started selling a VoIP package that give users a Hong Kong 8-digit local number that allows them to make calls to any Hong Kong number – PSTN, Wireless and VoIP – as un-metered HK local calls. The service will cost about $5 a month.

More recently, Netherlands-based ISP, CompuServe launched a five-euro plans which allows folks to make calls to Netherlands-based fixed line phones for free. (Well, if you add the 15 Euros you pay for their DSL connection, it is almost free.)

But the big whopper was from French DSL/Broadband provider, Free, which has slashed its VoIP telephony rates on several international destinations, effective Jan. 1st, for its 1 million+ subscribers equiped with the FreeBox modem. Calls to several countries, including USA, Canada, UK, China and Singapore are free and unlimited. Previously, only calls to fixed line numbers in mainland France were free. (Thanks Bernard!)

In recent days, Yahoo and SIPphone have started to offer their low-low cost voice services, and perhaps its only a matter of time before others add fuel to the fire. Sun Rocket for instance has been lowering the bar drastically, and what is to stop others from doing the same.

As this trend unfolds, the harsh economic realities will force people to think different. I think this march to near zero will be the catalyst for what iotum’s Alec Saunders calls Voice 2.0; a new thinking so championed by Aswath, where voice and other IP communications come together in a new kind of ip-cosmic bliss.