Internet Phones

TelephoneToday’s Wall Street Journal story, "Web Phones Go Unplugged", summed it up pretty well. There is a convergence taking place between cell phones and Internet phones. Utopia has not quite arrived but at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month there was a slew of new announcements surrounding Vonage, Skype, and various new handsets. The "ideal" phone is very close.
Imagine that your "cell phone" is on your belt or in your pocket. You are at home. When you make a call, the connection goes through your DSL or Cable Modem over the Internet and through one of the VoIP providers such as Vonage. When the phone "rings", you will hear a voice saying who is calling and if you look at the phone you will see a picture of the person and the person will have a unique "ring" associated with them so you can tell just from the ring. When you get in the car with your Bluetooth headset on, you will be using the same phone that you were using in the house except that phone calls will use the cellular network. When you arrive at the airport, the phone will pick up the free WiFi service being offered and you will once again be able to use Vonage or Skype for unlimited long distance calling.
Some would argue that the environment I have described is already here. There are in fact quite a few products and services available. However, there are a few wrinkles. A seamless 911 system is not quite there. There are still some places you might be that have no reliable signal of any kind. A power failure at home can cut you off from communications if you don’t have a good cellular signal or if your phone is dependent on a base station. Some telecommunications providers and airport operators are attempting to block free WiFi services. Finally, some of the devices have so many features that they are hard to adapt to for many people. In spite of the wrinkles, we are getting very close to the point where the Internet is pervasive in our lives for all forms of communications and interactions. I am sure we will see and hear much more about all this at the upcoming DEMO conference.