The VoIP Toll Shift

One of the promises of VoIP is it’s cost-effectiveness. By overlaying the new breed of telephony networks on top of our existing data networks and the Internet, thereby leveraging a transport mechanism that we’re already maintaining and paying for, we rid ourselves of the high toll charges imposed on us by the traditional telephony services by allowing end-users to call each other, regardless of the distance, essentially for “free.” And not just within our corporate walled gardens either; Skype, for example, has built the core of their business around providing a basic service of free phone calls between end-user consumers.

With the traditional telephony business model, the further away from the party you are calling, the higher the toll charge to call them. Even local calling within your local geographic area carries a cost, although now days that cost is generally a monthly flat-rate. The core business is built on these toll-ridden services, and “toll-free” calls are the exception to the norm. These so-called “toll-free” calls aren’t really toll-free at all however, they are only free to the party making the call; the recipient of the call pays the premium to provide this “free service” to their callers. The bottom line is, the consumer is usually being charged something throughout the entire spectrum of services. With VoIP and the new era of telephony, this is all changing…

With VoIP, the overall telephony business model, cost of service, and who is paying that cost, has shifted. With enterprise VoIP, the cost of basic telephony has moved from paying a service provider for rental of PBX equipment and providing call service to owning your own equipment and providing your own basic service, which overall is being absorbed within the IT budget. The majority of the remaining cost is still currently tied up in service charges associated with interfacing with the traditional telephony networks, however as this dependency on an interface with them wanes, quickened by consumers who are migrating on their own to various consumer services like Skype which provide a basic calling service for free, the remainder of that cost will disappear. In the end, the entire cost of telephony will be a fraction of the overall cost of maintaining the data network and will be completely transparent to end-users. In addition, those end-users, in their role as consumers, are becoming accustomed to not paying for anything but premium services like customer support lines and information lines, and even the latter are beginning to be replaced by free alternatives.

Businesses like Skype, realizing that their current primary revenue stream of charging for calls into and out of the traditional telephony network will eventually begin to shrink and that they need to create additional revenue streams, have begun to introduce features like Skype Prime which allow their customers to charge a toll for other Skype users to call them. This facilitates the creation of help lines, advice lines, and other pay-to-call services, which of course Skype skims off a percentage of the toll charge paid between the users.

As VoIP becomes more and more prevalent and the traditional telephony networks and services fade into antiquity, paying for basic service and occasionally getting toll free calls will no longer be the norm. In the new era, it will be the inverse; consumers will demand basic services for free and only occasionally pay for premium services. Businesses will no longer need to pay a premium for their customers to call them for free, as this will be inherent in basic service, and may actually begin to charge their customers for these types of services as that is what end-users will have become accustomed to. The toll shift will be complete.

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