Why VOIP is a terrible acronym

Why VOIP is a terrible acronym

Time to junk VOIP?

You don’t have to work in telecoms to have heard of VOIP. Many will know that it has something to do with making calls over the internet. Many will also know its full unabbreviated form – Voice Over Internet Protocol.

They would be right on both counts, yet VOIP still exudes an air of complexity.

There’s no problem with ‘VOI’. Voice over Internet. Simple.

It’s the ‘P’ where it all goes wrong.

Everyone knows where they are with the Internet. The Internet Protocol sounds technical and complicated. So why include Protocol?

It should be VOTI – Voice Over The Internet!


When the Protocol mattered

If you go back to the days of flared trousers, The Brady Bunch, glam rock and Chopper bikes, the Internet Protocol was a puzzle vexing the minds of the world’s greatest computer scientists.

The power of computing was already clear and some bright sparks had worked out how to create networks of computers. But how could diverse networks interact together? An ‘internetwork’ was the dream, but the networks had all been set up using different languages and coding conventions.

The Guardian’s guide to the History of the Internet recounts the extent of the problem: “The networks spoke alien and incompatible dialects. Trying to move data from one to another was like writing a letter in Mandarin to someone who only knows Hungarian and hoping to be understood. It didn’t work.”

In 1974, a couple of clever chaps, Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf, sketched a design for a simple but very flexible protocol: a universal set of rules for how computers should communicate. Two years later, the first successful internetwork transfers took place in an experiment in a Silicon Valley beer garden.

Nine years later the global computer community agreed on a common protocol and the internet was born. The internet began life on 1st January, 1983 using a protocol called Transfer Control Protocol/Internetwork Protocol or TCP/IP (yes, another acronym!).


Goodbye to the Protocol

The internet grew and grew and, frankly, people no longer really cared about how it worked. It was now universally known as the internet. Just think:

  • No-one has ever met new partners through ‘internet protocol dating’.
  • No-one browses over the ‘internet protocol’.
  • Hardly anyone knows what the protocol even is.

It’s the same with most technologies. Early TVs were called Cathode Ray Tube television sets, but by the time Coronation Street started to grip the nation, the box in the corner had become the telly. No-one cared about how the single electron gun inside the telly worked, they just wanted to see what was going down at the Rovers Return.

Since 1983, unless you are a computer geek, there has been no need to use the word protocol, yet VOIP was introduced a full 12 years later. It was an amazing technological step forward, but the naming should definitely have been decided by the marketing department.

Products being named by engineers is a common phenomenon in telecoms. They may be able to unpick mind-boggling conundrums and have Einstein-level IQs, but they fall short when it comes to catchy branding.


We are on a mission to junk the jargon

It’s much better than trying to explain what VOIP means. Even Wikipedia is incapable of defining the Internet Protocol in layman’s terms. It says: “The Internet Protocol (IP) is the network layer communications protocol in the Internet protocol suite for relaying datagrams across network boundaries.” Got that?