I recently read The Innovator’s Dilemma, which is a great book by Clayton M. Christensen about why dominant incumbents rarely continue as anything more than crumb-catchers (if they aren’t forced out of business altogether) once a disruptive technology takes hold.
Voice-over-IP is a disruptive technology. VoIP used to be something that only large businesses could consider, but now it’s trickling down to consumers. VoIP probably means the eventual end of the current leaders in wired telephony, although history suggests that they won’t understand this until it’s too late.
Vonage is the first company that I know of to offer VoIP to consumers — for $40, you get unlimited calls to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. Recently, they announced that they’d completed 10 million calls for over 15,000 customers over their network.
Now, Earthink is getting into the fray with Vonage as their partner. They’ll be reselling Vonage’s services to their 5 million customers, presumably using VoIP as a carrot for converting their 4+ million (and falling) dialup customers to broadband customers (which currently number just under 800,000).
I’m sure the wired telephony leaders are completely discounting Earthlink’s entry onto their turf, but in ten years they’ll see that this is when it all started to go wrong for them.