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Voice over IP (VoIP) is such a hot topic because it has become the new default backbone for business communications.

Three years ago, Network World predicted the rapidly approaching end of public switched telephone networks (PSTN), writing, “Replacement of the PSTN with a global VoIP-only network delivering service provider wired voice and wireless voice is not a question of if, but when.”

That was the same year that the Harvard Business Review suggested it was finally “the end of the line for the analog phone networks” as the FCC began conducting trials on converting entire communities from PSTN to VoIP as quickly as possible.

The end of plain old telephone service

Part of this large-scale digital transformation in telecom involves the abandonment of the traditional phone lines that carried the nation’s phone conversations for most of the past century. Copper land lines are now fading into history, either replaced by optical fiber as they breakdown or simply no longer serviced.

This summer, Illinois joined 19 other states that have authorized the end to copper land line servicing so that telecom companies can devote resources to developing VoIP and other future communications technology.

Meanwhile, the National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI) reported that 41 states have now either reduced or eliminated their oversight of wired telecom. VoIP converts voice, video and data into digital packets that can travel easily across fiber, cellular networks or Wi-Fi.

That future-proofing flexibility explains why VoIP is now No. 1 telephone service choice by US businesses, in a report on business VoIP usage by Software Advice. Approximately 36% of business are using VoIP today.

In second place, an estimated 24% of businesses continue to rely on PSTN, aka plain old telephone service (POTS), even though it can’t handle next-gen data and video. Primary rate interface (PRI) comes in third place, used by 11% of businesses, mostly large enterprises using a mix of PBX, ISDN circuits and T1 lines.

Virtual PBX phone systems

The fourth category of telephony technologies is the most recent. Around 8% of businesses are using cellular networks as their primary business line. That number is likely to soar in the future as the workplace transforms into a digital, mobile-first world of solopreneurs and online businesses.

This conclusion is backed up by survey responses given by business owners on why they upgraded their phone systems. The top reason for switching to VoIP for 29% of respondents was that they needed an easy way to forward calls to their mobile phones.

A close second at 25% was a flexible voicemail system that was simple to access on the road. In third place at 21% was a phone system that simplified interoperability with their existing mobile phones. The top three answers, representing a combined 75% of the survey responses, indicate that the future of business is mobile.

In the years ahead, phone service providers will invest heavily in technologies built on VoIP, including Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and HDVoice. Look for a wave of mergers and acquisitions in 2018 as the turbulent market sifts out the winners from the losers. Telecom industry analysts at Entrepreneur to Exit suggested, “Amid considerable M&A activity across the IT channel, one particular hotspot involves IP telephony.”

As coverage areas and feature sets won’t work as differentiators anymore, phone service providers are competing on factors such as the quality of their voice UX and wider interoperability.

High quality voice UX

For companies that have not yet implemented a VoIP system, they cite concern over poor sound quality. VoIP is often associated with the early years of free and low-cost providers like Google Voice and Skype. In the 20 years since VoIP was introduced, service providers have been working intensely with sound engineers to dial up VoIP’s Quality of Service (QoS).

The sound quality or Voice UX of VoIP systems are impacted most by the bandwidth available and stress on the network. For smaller companies operating near their network capacity, VoIP is only an option in the cloud or over their cellular services.

The biggest advances in this area have been handled internally by the big four cell service providers: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. Each as their own versions of VoLTE and HDVoice. These are VoIP options with first-class voice UX delivered over cellular networks. They rely on the processing speeds of massive server farms owned by the service providers and the most advanced software for improving sound quality.

5G and the next generation

In the year ahead, 5G will come online in more locations. It is projected to stream voice, video and data 10 times faster than 4G. A report on 5G by IT Toolbox concluded, “5G will also improve the quality of VoIP calls by notably reducing or even eliminating jitteriness, data transfer losses and the much-dreaded dropped call.”

While there have been great strides in voice UX, interoperability still needs attention. Many of the central functions that used to be performed by software on desktops are now handled by smartphones, including email, meeting notes, project planning, data analysis, CRM updating, task coordination and administrative work. In the year ahead, VoIP and cell service providers will devote more resources to making sure that mobile communications integrate more naturally into back office functions.

A good example is the spread of “Click to call” buttons, driven by the dominance of smartphones over PCs as the primary way people access the web. Research by Google revealed that 70% of mobile users expect businesses to enable a “Click to call” functionality on their main websites. Interoperability between the web, phone systems and back office software will be the new frontier in VoIP development.

The new last mile

The new last mile in telecom isn’t hardwired into a fixed structure but follows the user wherever they are. As the workforce is increasingly mobile and remote, empowering mobility in the field becomes a key differentiator in business phone service. Mobile-first, software-based phone systems are designed to be managed and deployed across your mobile phone infastructure.

The WEF estimated that the digitalization of telecom will be worth $2 trillion in operating profit by 2025. Part of that value will come from the tranformation of clunky desk phones, complex wiring and aging servers to virtual phone systems that live in the cloud and intutively adapt to network capacity to deliver the highest quality voice experience possible.

Reninventing voice

As voice is better supported by mobility and smart tech, a new user experience is emerging. AI is transforming telecom, from more resilient networks to better call quality and advanced analytics. Spoke Phone is a truly global phone system with DDI’s in 56 countries, AI auto-attendent, and smart geo routing. To learn more about Spoke, including how our AI is powering the next generation voice UX, sign up for an interactive demo and see how to transform your mobile phone or business phone line into a smart office phone system.