Skype and voice availability expectations

Does voice availability still matter? Perhaps we'll learn the answer in the aftermath a massive Skype outage yesterday that reportedly was caused by faulty software. A voice outage affecting some 220 million users worldwide once would have been unthinkable, a hanging offense for the company involved and in clear violation of the public telephone network standard of "five nines" (99.999%) reliability (never mind that network reliability and service availability may be two different things, a distinction many of us have forgotten).

VoIP service was burdened by availability questions the first 10 years or so of its market maturation. The telco community insisted it would never be a hit because it couldn't stand up to the quality and availability expectations long-time public network users would have. Over the years, VoIP technology improved, but from where I'm sitting, the explosive growth and rapid acceptance of VoIP the last few years had more to do with a cultural evolution--the usage rules and expectations of the Internet and wireless cultures becoming mainstream.

In the Internet and wireless cultures, community and convenience (the latter a benefit of mobility) are king, and reliability, though not many would admit it, is a runner-up. 

For more about the Skype outage:
- read this story in The New York Times.
And for an explanation of what "five nines" really means, see this piece in Business Communications Review.