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New data on the growth rates of voice over IP (VoIP) for business suggest that the technology is moving from the Early Majority stage to the Late Majority stage within its Innovation Diffusion curve.

This graph, first proposed by E.M. Rogers in 1962, still represents the most accurate predictor of how successful innovations propagate through a population.

When VoIP burst onto the communication scene 20 years ago, businesses were skeptical about how wise it was to carve voice calls up into data packets that were then sent over the internet. Although VoIP deeply discounted the costs of long distance and international calls, businesses had to be sure they could hear every word and the call wouldn’t drop when deals were on the line. This was the era of VoIP Innovators.

Bandwidth was tight and call quality tended to vary greatly. Even with deep pocket investments from companies like Skype and Google in the early years of the 21st century, VoIP was more promise than delivery. Only Early Adopters trusted their business calls to VoIP.

Over the next decade, VoIP providers took advantage of rapid advances in technology to build a wholly different network infrastructure. Quality of Service (QoS) improved dramatically with the deployment of faster, more resilient networks. Reliability caught up with cost savings and interoperability as the top reasons companies chose VoIP.

By 2015, VoIP had moved into the Early Majority stage as more business buyers chose VoIP solutions than any other type of voice service. VoIP is now taking the place of public switched telephone networks (PSTN) as the business communications backbone of the future and copper twisted pair cables are fading into history.

This year, a report by Technavio on projected global VoIP deployments suggests that VoIP will grow at a rate of a 9.87% through at least 2021. The report also pointed to three factors moving business VoIP into the next stage of its life-cycle:

  • The increasingly mobile workforce
  • BYOD as the new normal
  • Greater coverage by 3G/4G/5G hotspots

Each of these factors interacts with and amplifies the effects of the others.

The Increasingly Mobile Workforce

There is a great deal of evidence that the future of work will be 100% mobile. Smartphones have been adopted at the fastest rate of any technology and it’s not hard to see why. Smartphones and the app ecosystem they brought with them put the full force of cloud computing, the knowledge database of the web, and personal connections all within reach of the users, everywhere they go.

In 2017, three out of four US adults own smartphones and that adoption rate jumps up 92% for millennials in their 20s. This generation has grown up with VoIP and two-thirds of them don’t even have a land line. Almost half of these smartphone owners say they could “couldn’t live without it.”

The IDC projected that 72% of the workforce will be mobile by 2020, reducing the need for a central office. In fact, a workforce survey by Monster found that 48% of workers expect that traditional offices may not even exist in a meaningful way by 2021. In that future, mobile VoIP and technologies built on top of it, such as VoLTE and HD Voice, will be a professional necessity.

BYOD as the New Normal

Although only 59% of organizations currently have an official BYOD policy, according to Tech Pro Research, nearly nine out of ten companies either “somewhat” or “highly” depend on their employees to access business apps on their own devices, especially their work email. 77% of businesses surveyed said they expect the business use of personal devices to increase in the year ahead.

While some business owners used to worry that employees using their own smartphones might interfere with work, research by Frost and Sullivan found that in the real world, BYOD boosts productivity by 34%.

Here’s why:

  • 42% of workers say BYOD helps to speed up innovation
  • 41% say the flexibility makes work better
  • 39% say that smartphones improve the quality of collaborations

VoIP-based technology and apps are riding the wave of both the increasingly mobile workforce and the competitive advantage of BYOD. The only other factor VoIP needs to operate smoothly is bandwidth, and there is a great deal of that on the way.

Greater Coverage of 3G/4G/5G Hotspots

The true value of VoIP comes into play in making voice and video calls possible in more remote locations. Due to bandwidth restrictions on business networks and coverage areas of wireless routers or hotspots, VoIP-based calls used to have limited applications.

Over the next few years, 3G and 4G coverage will expand to more rural areas as 5G begins to be introduced in urban centers. Wireless hotspot technology is rapidly advancing to allow stronger signals over wider areas, as well as traditional dead zones like subways, elevators, and open public areas.

With the wider coverage of 5G by 2021, gigabyte speeds will be available from devices as small as home hotspots instead of the giant cellular towers required by 4G. This will vastly enhance voice quality and make it possible to watch streaming video or transfer files during the conversation.

In the near future, businesses will need for a more agile communication infrastructure that follows business users wherever they go. A new generation of converging technologies has arisen to address that. New innovations will continue to disrupt and redefine communications well into the future, as technology like AI and IoT mature. Connecting users across the world, on the devices that are set to their preferences, while providing a new standard of service is a collaborative endeavor of intricate complexity, and we’re just at the beginning.