VoIP, like most computer technologies, has a quick development cycle. Hosted VoIP allows for business VoIP providers to quickly add new features and push them out to their subscribers with a simple overnight update. This is a huge advantage over traditional hardware-based PBXs that must be manually upgraded and updated, on-site and by appointment, by a qualified and expensive technician. What will the future hold for Voice over Internet Protocol? Based on our research into upcoming trends and technology that has been adopted by a few companies that is sure to expand, and our educated guesses on how existing technology will be used, here are some of the features you can expect to see in VoIP in the coming years.

SMS integration into web portal and desktop software
UK-based VoIPdito is the first VoIP provider we’ve seen integrate this technology. VoIPdito subscribers can send out text messages to cell phones for only 8 cents a text. The technology behind it is something called an “SMS gateway,” which translates and sends text messages from a computer to a cell phone. Microsoft Outlook, AOL Instant Messenger, and Skype, to name a few, all have native support for SMS. We should expect to be able to send and receive text messages to and from cell phones with our desktop/portal in the near future.

Reminder Calls
Residential VoIP providers already offer wakeup call service. Combine that with text-to-speech, call rules, and Outlook/Google integration and it should only be a matter of time before our phones are calling us five minutes before a big event or appointment. Google Calendar already has the ability to send a message or email at a set time before an appointment. We should expect to see something similar as part of business VoIP.

Call Yourself to Make an Appointment, Add a Contact, and More
Apple’s Siri is the biggest name in robot assistants since Rosie, the Jetsons’ Maid. But, alternatives are already available, such as Vlingo, Google Voice Search, and Speaktoit Assistant. The open source community is already developing alternatives as well, with names like “Ruby” and “James.” Just as Fonality built upon Asterisk to make PBXtra, we are likely to see virtual secretaries on the user end, just as auto-attendant routes inbound calls. I predict that, with a speaker phone or picking up the phone, you’ll be able to call your VoIP provider’s version of Siri and make an appointment, set a reminder, or even ask what the traffic will be like on the way home.

Desktop IP Phones with Docking Functionality
Motorola has a phone called the ATRIX 4G, which is powerful enough to run a laptop, and can do so with a laptop dock. Many home theater packages receivers and Blu-ray players can be controlled with a smartphone app. In 2010, a company called SAVANT, out of Osterville, MA, introduced an IP phone that uses an iPad as its graphical user interface. The technology is already here. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes less expensive and more widespread. It remains to be seen whether IP phones will use tablet and mobile devices as “the brains” of their devices, or will use these devices primarily as accessories. A common feature for business VoIP is “Call Flip” or “Call Pass,” which passes along calls from a cell phone to a desktop phone without hanging up. We should also expect these docking phones to be able to instantly transfer an ongoing call as soon as they are docked to the desktop phone.

VoIP Built Into Cars
A Videoconference in a moving car sounds like a silly idea? What about a video conference in the back of a limo? Suddenly, it’s not such a silly idea. GM has already partnered with Verizon Wireless to build 4G apps right into their cars. As this idea grows past the novelty phase and streaming movies into the backseats of minivans, we are sure to see innovations geared towards the business user. As long as the driver is not distracted, a passenger, particularly in a luxury car, will be able to get the most out of his 4G network, whether he tethers his phone to the car, or has a 4G antennae built right into the car. Using data instead of minutes, VoIP subscribers will be able to make calls and conference from the comfort of a leather car seat.

Even Better Sound and Picture Quality
We’ve covered the huge improvement that HD voice is over regular audio. But, as good as it sounds, a new codec called “OPUS” uses variable bitrate to increase or lower the quality of the signal on the fly, ensuring the highest quality audio that is available that second. Opus has the capacity to exceed even current wideband audio to reach stereo full-band audio. This means easier communication in audio and video conference calls. OPUS has already been implemented in some video games.

The future of VoIP is looking very bright. These are just a few of the innovations we hope to see in the coming years. VoIP has a fast development cycle. New products hit the market in months, not years. And when these innovations do hit the market, we'll be here to review and recommend them.