The blogosphere is buzzing, especially with news that iPad owners will be able to use their $30/month unlimited data packages for VoIP as well... which is cool, except that it doesn't matter.
First off, are we really willing to trust AT&T's 3G network to deliver solid quality for voice? Nope. What about WiFi? Trying to make a WiFi call in your average Starbucks doesn't often end well. Lots of dropped audio, and generally poor quality.
Sure, that's acceptable when it's a free alternative to a paid phone call, but what about when all calls are free anyway?
With all the major carriers offering unlimited voice and data plans from $80-120 USD / month, it's clear that unlimited voice is something that the carriers are already thinking about pretty seriously... and it's not just because they're feeling generous. It turns out the average call to customer service costs a carrier between $10-15. The average customer calls in 4-6 times a year. That's a lot of profit gone each time you call to complain about a dropped call, or an incorrect bill. With an unlimited plan, there aren't any errors on your bill, so you don't call customer service, and with domestic calls costing next to nothing for the carrier, this is a great way to cut costs and grow revenue.
What about carriers building out their 3G networks and adding more capacity? That's great, but the quality of service required to deliver solid voice just isn't a part of the 3G data service that carriers offer... and there's no incentive for them to provide it. (We asked for net neutrality... and we'll get it... meaning, no voice QoS).
My bet? Unlimited voice and data plans will take off in a big way in 2010, and between the decreasing price of voice minutes, and our increasing use of data applications (which, without QoS for voice, means voice-over-3G-data won't work), VoIP over 3G won't get used very much at all. The biggest threat to carrier voice revenue isn't VoIP-over-3G offerings... it's services like Google Voice, which are benefitted by the unlimited voice plans, but compete on the long-distance minute side of the business.