So, needless to say, despite the death-march exhaustion inherent in such an aggressive agenda, I had a great time exploring mobile unified communications (start with Part 1, here) in the Baltic region. Talking on the phone with exceptional quality at about US$.06 an hour made me the envy of more than few who asked what I was doing. Of course, one must be able to tolerate potentially long periods of disconnected activity, but I suspect that, with developments like the Wi-Fi Alliance's Passpoint initiative, public-access Wi-Fi will become much more available over the next few years. And, even when one has to pay for such service, competition should hold down prices to the point that those enormous and outrageous cellular roaming charges will fade into history - in fact they already are. T-Mobile is adjusting their prices as of 20 October 13 - I haven't studied the fine print here (and there is always fine print), but this looks pretty good.
For now, however, the strategies and tools I applied are only for a relatively small class of users who don't mind doing a little systems-integration work and, again, periods of disconnection. There is a good basic strategy, though; set up your Asterisk system, and stay at hotels that offer free Wi-Fi. Even if you're not a guest in such an establishment, the (not always required, BTW) passwords are often posted for all to see. So, again, as long as you don't need to be in constant contact, this simple technique works very well indeed.
I'm now exploring where else we might go with the test system we've built, and I'll let you know if anything materializes here. Suffice it to say that virtual phone companies (like Skype, Vonage, Grasshopper, RingCentral, and many more) already exist, but I can think of many useful features and capabilities that they simply don't offer. Note that some services, like Vonage and BasicTalk, are based on a box that's installed in one's office or home - not really an ideal solution, and reminiscent of netTALK and the granddaddy of them all, Magic Jack. These certainly work (I've tested them all), but I prefer a software-only solution, at least with respect to local facilities.
Beyond disjoint, catch-as-catch-can access, the future here is likely to be centered on carrier-sponsored Wi-Fi. I continue to expect that Wi-Fi will remain important, even to voice, no matter how cellular evolves as VoLTE VoIP becomes common, as Wi-Fi still provisions vastly more capacity than will ever be available on cellular. Keep in mind, though, that mobile unified communications in concept really is separate from any carrier (or, better put here, carrying) network. This brings back the specter of the Big Dumb Pipe that carriers obviously seek to avoid, but, let's face it: somebody has to supply the Big Dumb Pipe. The longer term may be like what I expect cable TV to become, with programming separate from transport, and pricing of both transport and content appropriate to that reality. Of course, this is an enormous threat to the current cable business model, introducing all sorts of complicating factors. But I believe such will eventually come to pass as cable continues to lose subscribers (they have only themselves to blame) and that the competitive market will act to hold down prices, again, at least for transport. The same can be expected for voice, which opens the door to MUC on a grand scale. And, as always, differentiation will be all about the value-add.
MUC may very well end up being so transparent that we won't even give it a second thought. I'm going to continue using this solution regardless, especially when I travel internationally, and perhaps even as a primary vehicle in the office. In the meantime, the only real alternative to budgeting a good deal of cash each day for communications while roaming internationally (which is, of course, what we've been doing all along) is to stay at a hotel with free Wi-Fi. And, thankfully, there are a lot of those out there.
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Donna Diamond, Farpoint Group's erstwhile Operations Manager, and a direct descendent - I am not making this up - of Harald Bluetooth himself), e-Learning expert (and part-time travel agent) Stephanie Hubka, also a direct descendent of King Harald, Jim Finnegan, who built the Asterisk implementation, and the countless people who had to endure my asking "can you hear me now", for their invaluable assistance with this project.