Jim Pond is a techie and an Apple lover. He always needs the newest Apple product at his small suburban Boston creative agency, whether it's the latest iPad, MacBook, iPhone or iPod Touch. "If it's Apple, we've gotta have it," he proudly states.
But there's one Apple item that Pond and business partner Matthew Maguy are dropping: their iPhones. Instead, the two-person James & Matthew consulting and advertising firm will use Skype on iPad Minis and MacBooks for all voice communications.
"After having my iPad Mini for a while I started to realize that my iPhone is irrelevant," Pond says. "Anything I can do on my iPhone I can do on my iPad Mini."
Except make a phone call, right?
"Ahhhh ... but it can," he points out. "Skype via LTE, connected to a Bluetooth headset."
Pond's been sans-iPhone for weeks and loves it. He spends about $20 a month on a data plan for his iPad Mini, instead of about $200 a month on his cellphone bill. The economics make it a no-brainer, and he recommends it to others. "I believe there will be a post-cellphone world," he says.
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The maturity of services like Skype, Google Voice and others are making VoIP more feasible for businesses.
I believe there will be a post-cellphone world."
— Jim Pond
Jay Botelho, who manages products at network monitoring company WildPackets, says VoIP is having a renaissance in business settings. "It seems there was a lull over the last couple of years, but now there's a whole new increased interest," he says.
But that doesn't mean we're in a post-cellphone world -- or that we'll ever be, he says. "That is a long, long way off, if ever," he declares.
Botelho has heard of small businesses dropping landlines, but having an entire company (even if it is just two people) nix both the cellphone and landlines and go all VoIP? James & Matthew is the first Botelho has heard of doing that.
"There's still some difficulty with VoIP," he says. When deployed on a massive scale, VoIP traffic can place a significant burden on the network and require more investment in monitoring and optimization services. In other words, it's not as easy as just canceling the cellphone plans and relying on a traditional network to pick up all the new traffic load.
Pond says call quality is just as good as on a carrier network. No one has ever questioned the quality of his voice connection, he says.
Mike Elgan is on Pond's side when it comes to this issue. The Computerworld blogger recently asked in a post, "Wait, so why do we need phones again?"
[ READ ELGAN'S COLUMN: Why do we need phones again? ]
"I know that Internet-based, or voice-over-IP (VoIP), service has a longer voice delay and is in that way worse than your typical mobile phone call. And, for that matter, landline phone service offers higher quality than a mobile call. And records are higher quality than MP3s. And letters are higher quality than email. Yet we routinely choose lower quality in some respects in order to have more features and lower cost. The truth is that Internet-based phone calls are good enough."
His thesis: "We don't need phone service anymore." Elgan uses Google Voice through his iPhone, but he does not have a phone plan, just data plan.
Elgan got a range of comments on his post, including some questioning what would happen if everyone just suddenly dropped their carrier and switched to VoIP. Could the network handle it? Don't we need a telecommunications infrastructure for emergency communications? What's going to happen to the cost of data plans if everyone starts using VoIP?
Even with VoIP services improving in quality and offering a cheaper voice communications platform, Botelho doesn't see cellphones going away anytime soon. Nor will landlines. Or email. Or even fax machines. Remember those things? Well ,there's plenty of them still sitting around offices today. As new technology advances, it doesn't always supplant existing technologies. For some use cases a landline will be best, and for others, VoIP may just be good enough.