On Broadband, VoIP Finds Its Voice

I distinctly remember the days when VoIP was nothing but a curiosity — a choppy and quixotic experience at best, when our fastest consumer Internet was a 128 kbps ISDN connection. It was back when Verizon ( s VZ) was called Bell Atlantic.

We’ve come along way from those early days. Today, one in five broadband lines has a VoIP service attached to it, according to industry analyst Point Topic, which estimates nearly 22 percent of consumer broadband lines have a VoIP service. That’s about 112 million lines at the half-way mark in 2010 — and no, this doesn’t include folks like Skype.

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One of the biggest VoIP markets is France, where bitter competition between upstarts like Xavier Niel’s Free and France Telecom has made low-cost VoIP service a standard part of a broadband package. Nearly 70 percent of French households have VoIP. The U.S. is the largest market by sheer numbers, thanks to cable companies selling VoIP as part of their bundled subscriptions; while in China, only one in 20 broadband connections has VoIP.

As much as wired VoIP services have grown, however, the fact remains that VoIP’s future is on mobile. The massive growth of Skype, the explosion in the number of Nimbuzz users and the growing popularity of other services is a sign that with the rise of the smartphones, VoIP has a new growth engine. According to In-Stat research, there will be 288 million VoIP users by 2013. Mobile has to pay a role in that, especially as we enter the era of 3.5 and 4G wireless broadband. It all makes you wonder: What is the future of the traditional landline?

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