Remember when phones were used for, you know, phone calls? Janet Hall, senior consultant for TMNG, does. What's more, Hall says that voice communications will rise again away from a commodity to a growth market.

Hall has penned a white paper called "The Renaissance of Voice" that looks at the evolution of voice. From the bad old days of Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTN) through the split of AT&T and into seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC), back into a handful of telcos that dominate the industry once again. While that was going on, a funny thing happened – IP-based networks and mobile made voice a much less profitable commodity.

However, in her paper, Hall says that voice is coming full circle: "from flagship product, to commodity transport, to high value application and enabler. It is now poised to usher in an exploding growth market within the communications industry."

Hall's contention is that "voice" is becoming important again thanks to tools like Skype and Apple's Facetime. "The act of making a phone call will continue to be a commodity, but voice itself, such as a business conversation, has the potential to become embedded in value-added applications limited only by the imagination."

When I spoke to her yesterday (August 2nd), I raised the point that voice is just one component of many of the applications she cites – video is obviously a major factor for many Skype users and is a core part of the Facetime experience. Hall says that video is "just voice-plus" and that voice is back to becoming a marquee product as part of a variety of applications.

Hall's paper raises some interesting points, but I'm not entirely convinced that voice is undergoing quite the renaissance she suggests based on a few successes. Video with voice is becoming a major mover, and voice-controlled applications seem to be almost expected at this point.

She does have a point that voice is becoming an important part of value-added applications, and that companies are using voice in new and interesting ways – so much so that voice plays are becoming ripe acquisition targets. Hall's paper cites BT's acquisition of Ribbit, Telefonica's purchase of Skype rival Jajah, and of course the Skype acquisition as well. Hall says that this will continue, and she suggests that big telcos will continue snapping up voice-related innovators. On this, Hall and ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick agree. Kirkpatrick says "Smart telecom companies know their time as local monopolists is counting down fast. Companies like Ribbit and others powered by Ribbit could quickly offer better, cheaper, more exciting telephone service than companies like BT."

While I don't think the focus on voice exclusively is quite right, the overall assessment about acquisition and use of voice as a value-add is. If you're interested in seeing what Hall has to say in greater detail, grab the white paper (PDF) and decide if this is really a renaissance of voice.