As communications industry undergoes significant changes in the architecture of networks and services, the role of Quality needs to be rethought too.

The telecom industry is a bastion of quality technology. In fact, it was Bell Labs that employed Dr [[Walter A. Shewhart]], generally known as the father of statistical process control, who in 1924 wrote the 1-page memo that laid the groundwork for the application of statistics in manufacturing.

Clearly, consumers have benefited from the clarity and technical controls inherent in the circuit switched telephone network. Only when they were offered a trade off of mobility versus quality did they consider, in large numbers a willing reduction in quality.

More recently the introduction of IP technologies for voice transport has created the market momentum around another trade-off in the works – and although it started as an expression of price versus quality, today, the trade-off is productivity versus quality. Unified communications offer much higher productivity, but can reduce the audio quality in a poorly managed IP network.

But, VoIP doesn't have to represent lower quality. It does because enterprises have not developed a solid framework for understanding the performance issues in their production networks, probably because they don't have the time to manage the environment, and won't know what to do with the data once they see it.

For many years, IP PBXes could only support PSTN gateways for inter-enterprise calls. Some now offer SIP trunking as a public network interface which can reduce the number of hops but only for those other endpoints also supported by that particular service provider. So, systems architectures and service designs can introduce unnecessary hops and quality problems that reduce the experience to the lowest common denominator.

Quality management of complex systems is a desirable and highly valued goal.

Where did Quality really make a difference in consumer markets?

In the early days of competitive telecom in the US, the Sprint company earned a solid reputation in the 1980s with it's 'pin drop' gimic at the end of every TV or radio commercial. The claim was that Sprint's all-fiber network could reproduce audio faithfully (while MCI's microwave network couldn't).

In automotive markets, Toyota, Honda and Nissan in particular gained enormous market share in the 1980s by delivering higher quality vehicles compared to the indigenous manufacturers. Fewer repairs, higher resale value and stronger customer loyalty made quality a solid, long term value proposition. Despite the complexity of changing the supply chain, engineering methods and pricing practices, the North American automotive manufacturers made big strides in quality, substantially closing the gap to the point where Ford claims its quality is as good as Toyotas.

In video conferencing, the introduction of high definition cameras, codecs and using flat panel monitors, LifeSize made a significant difference in the user experience with their debut in 2003. 

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