Thursday, January 4, 2007

Canadian VoIP Adoption Data - Trending Up, But...

This morning's Globe & Mail "Click Counter" poll was about VoIP. They publish a regular series of these polls, drawn from an online sample of Globe readers. This poll was based on 454 readers, so it's a pretty decent indicator of general market sentiment.

While the overall data is favorable towards VoIP, the wording of the question really bothers me, and is another typical example of how the mainstream media doesn't quite get it with VoIP. More on that in a sec - first, here are the numbers...

Question - "Do you use/have you used VoIP services like Skype to make calls?"

Absolutely, VoIP rocks - 54%

No, traditional telecom all the way - 38%

What the heck is VoIP? - 7%

So.... at face value, the news is good - just over half the sample use VoIP - whoo hoo, whoo hoo hoo....

On the other hand, almost 4 in 10 prefer to stay with PSTN, thank you very much. Not a big surprise there, and we all know that VoIP has a long way to go before taking over the world.

And finally - only 7% don't know what VoIP is. No doubt that's well below what most general population polls would show. Even though I'm living in a VoIP world, I'd have a hard time believing that 93% know about it overall. I think that just speaks to the fact the Globe & Mail demographic is pretty upscale, and that it's an online poll. So, I think we're a bit removed from the true Main Street audience here.

Enough on the numbers - I think you get the idea. Now for some well intentioned critical thinking....

First off, I've been a marketing research practitioner for over 20 years, so I instinctively feel a need to put some qualifiers in here.

The biggest thing about statistics, of course, is that you can get any result you want, so long as you word the questions a certain way. I know this is just a simple reader poll, so it's not fair to get too worked about things. However, you first need to keep in mind that the question asks about "using" VoIP services. It doesn't ask whether it's at home or at work, or whether it's on a landline or the PC, or whether it's a paid or free service. And that's where I have to put in my two cents.

I've often commented about how problematic I find it when the media lumps Skype and Vonage together when talking about VoIP, as if they were equivalent services. Sure, they're both VoIP, but as I've said over and over, Skype is a complement to subscriber-based services like Vonage - and not a replacement.

Sure, SkypeOut is now a paid service - I just signed up myself - but even Skype makes it clear on their website that this is not a landline replacement service.

So, WHY, WHY, WHY does the question in this poll use Skype as the example for a VoIP service? I'll bet virtually all the respondents to this poll who have used Skype have only used the free service - and with the question being asked in such a leading manner, people are probably going to be thinking about Skype when answering this question. So, is it any surprise that so many people said "Absolutely, VoIP rocks". Well, I think that really means "Skype rocks" - after all, what's not to like about a free VoIP service? Furthermore, you know that virtually everybody using Skype in this poll is either making free Skype-to-Skype calls, or only making SkypeOut calls for PSTN connectivity. Canadian area codes are not available for SkypeIn service - it's a 911 issue - so I highly doubt many of these readers are receiving PSTN calls on Skype. Enough said.

Well, in my mind, that's a very different type of VoIP from what the pureplays like Vonage, Primus Canada, etc. are doing with their subscriber-based services. These truly are landline replacement services, and I don't think this poll is being very fair to them in the way the question is worded. On that note, I'm having a real hard time determining what people's frame of reference is when thinking about their answers. Is it in comparison to Skype, or a replacement service? In my mind, the answers would not necessarily be the same - maybe yes, maybe no.

Argggh. Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of both Skype and the likes of Vonage and Primus - I just have a problem when the question uses Skype as the example for VoIP. Is it just me?

And finally, I just wanted to comment on the wording of the options for answering the question. Again, the market researcher in me can't leave it alone. Even though the question is worded to elicit a simple Yes/No response, with these choices, you either love VoIP or love your carrier. To me, it's a bit of leap to say one or the other if your experience with VoIP has just been making free calls on Skype. Again, it's a case of mixing apples and oranges, and I think at the end we're just getting fruit punch.

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