Boris is referencing Ed Bilodeau in a discussion of a new ad campaign in which Bell is trying to convince consumers that Videotron’s new VoIP (Voice over IP) telephone service is unreliable. Some folks are attacking Bell, calling it a FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) smear.
Boris points out what he perceives as an irony — that Bell has been installing fibre optic cables and selling VoIP services to corporations for years. However, the issue isn’t what they’ve sold to corporations or how much fibre optic is installed. For one thing, corporate VoIP goes through really big and reliable corporate servers, not the crappy cable TV line that your landlord installed illegally 20 years ago.
More specifically, when one speaks of VoIP, one generally means that either the originating or terminating phone (or both) is an IP-based unit that sends and receives its signals through an IP server instead of a traditional voice switch. For many complicated reasons, this isn’t the same as when somewhere along the way, a traditional call gets carried over an IP line — a transparent technological leap that has been happening for years and does not qualify as “VoIP.”
When your phone is IP from the start, and uses a cable modem and TV line as it’s gateway, then reliability will go down. Videotron, for example, craps out all the time. Anyone who has every had to reboot their Videotron modem to get their Web access back might want to think about that. They might also think about the fact that — unlike regular phones — VoIP phones won’t work when there is a power failure, although the newer VoIP modems have backup batteries that can last up to 20 hours. That’s also a moot question if you have a mobile phone, since you can use that if the power goes out — assuming your battery is charged and you’re not concerned about missing calls from people who don’t have your mobile number.
In other words, the issue of reliability comes from getting the call into and out of your house — not what happens once it’s out there in the system.
The traditional phone companies have, for years, prided themselves on what they call “five-9” reliability. That means the phone lines work 99.999% of the time. The big telecoms have used this five-9 argument against VoIP and other IP-based voice technologies for years — at least they did in the 1990s, when you couldn’t get five-9 reliability from corporate VoIP systems. So it is not something new. What is new is that they’re now bringing that message to consumers.
That said, Bell is absolutely correct that consumer VoIP is less reliable. Factoring in those modems, cable lines, and power outages, there’s no way they can hit five-9 at this point. There remain, however, two unanswered questions:
(1) Exactly how much less reliable is VoIP? Is consumer VoIP at three-9 (99.9%)? Is it five-8 (88.888%)? Is it 75%? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s probably around 99%.
(2) Do consumers really need five-9 reliability? Is that as strong a selling point as Bell thinks it is? Are consumers willing to give up a percentage point or two of reliability in exchange for lower prices? In most cases, I suspect it’s a resounding yes!
You can criticize Bell for many things (and I have, believe me, I have) but this is just plain old marketing. It’s up to the consumer to decide how much reliability they need and to figure out what they are willing to compromise for a lower price.