A friend of mine has been giving me a hard time for holding on to my Vonage line. He has gone to a model where he only uses Skype and his mobile phone — he has no land-line equivalent to speak of. The same day he and I had this conversation, I was reading this article about businesses using Skype (thanks, C|Net). I like Skype and find myself using it more and more. However, I still don’t think of it as a substitute for my Vonage. In a lot of ways, this is like most of the other convergence vs. peaceful coexistence arguments going on in digital entertainment, communications, and any other technology field these days.
My basic heuristic for choosing how I will communicate is to go where users are today. My mobile phone takes care of my on-the-go voice communications needs. Plus, lots of my friends have mobile phones and that makes my phone more valuable. I am going to skip the formal discussion of network effects — look on Wikipedia if you want to understand all of the specifics. The same thing is true of my Vonage account. Most of the people with whom I need to communicate have some PSTN-connected phone. Vonage solves the problem I have in staying connected in a way that’s easy for them and it gives me the added reliability of a fixed line solution when I don’t want to use my mobile phone. Skype fills a very different hole. When I am on my computer at home or work and want to get in touch with someone AND would like to know whether they are around and available for a quick chat, Skype is great — I can’t get presence notification from my mobile or Vonage. Also, you can’t beat the price (free) when chatting with friends internationally.
So what does this have to do with convergence, you ask? Well, I see lots of people running around talking about how they can’t wait until they have a mobile phone that can seamlessly handoff between mobile and Wi-Fi networks on the fly. Let’s set aside the question of when this will be feasible. Why would I want this kind of convergence? In a campus or home environment, I would like to have a cordless Wi-Fi phone. But why would I need to have the ability to switch to a mobile phone and walk out the door. Cost? Mobile minutes keep getting cheaper by the day. I don’t find that argument terribly compelling. Convenience? Have you ever found anything that really switches as “seamlessly” as advertised? Reliability? For all of the complaints about mobile phone coverage, they are way ahead of the Wi-Fi guys in terms of completeness and handoffs. So I am not sure why this converged Wi-Fi + mobile phone thing is supposed to be so great whenever it arrives.
Just because a handful of individual products are great alone (Skype is great, the mobile phone is great, Vonage is great) does not mean that smashing them all together will create an even better product.