Monday, 13 August 2007

Communicating in the Noughties

A quick look at your future communications.

Several weeks ago I started to put together a list of things that I could foresee in communication and interaction. It was all started by an email from an IP telephony company so a lot of this relates to IPtels.

First, IP telephony is one place where I expect my comunications to change. A lot. At the moment there is crossover between telephony and IP traffic, in the form of 3G cellphone services and the crop of "m.whatever" mobile websites, and a few apps that let me VoIPfrom my cellhpone using GPRS, 3G, or sometimes, WiFi. Telcos are still not able to deal with a device that can evade their toll meters and find the cheapest way from my phone to yours, but some of the WiFi multiband phones now coming t the market are going to force a rethink there.

But that leaves it at still just tough tits for landline users isn't it? Here's an idea, big telcos:

VoIP based fixed phones are now routinely installed in offices, why keep selling analog handsets? Take the big leap, go on - commission an IP phone with built in ADSL modem, CAT 5 outputs, and a WiFi router. At one stroke, you've put digital data on the last mile, aggregated your customer's voice and data, and provided them with a broadband connection, all in one. You not only have their voice calls, you can also claim their broadband dollars, and with the WiFi you can permit cellular/WiFi roaming because you can track and charge any cellular handset, and you own those WiFi APs as well.

Bonus points if you spotted that you can put a few of these little babies into public phone boxes etc to provide more coverage.

Double bonus: If you can see that you also get a geolocation service like no other and could sell THAT information to a Google, or whoever is going to be interested in placing their ad on the touchscreen of every IPphone within 20 miles of their business.

IPtels: Start planning for that to be happening, or even start developing and making these devices yourself. If every home that currently has an analog landline phone changes over to IP based broadband phones, and you can capture even 1% to 5% of that market, you have got quite some income there. Imagine a world where each fixed phone consists of much the same as a mobile phone. Hell, add a USB port or two to this IP handset and you can often bypass the PC of the customer! iTunes downloaded directly from the fixed handset, attach a printer/scanner MFP for fax service - the list is endless.

Bonus points: If you can see a Bluetooth style earpiece and voice dialling on fixed line phones, with a capability to read any designated text (such as Instant Messenger messages or Twitter tweets) to that BT headset.

Then plan for the babel to be tamed - in more ways than one. If I want to talk to 2 dozen of my friends via voice, consider how a chatroom works. People's messages aren't delivered all intermingled, they are delivered as a series of discrete messages, serially. Same with SMS. You have the capacity to store a voice message and then release it in an RSS feed - so why am I not seeing this service available yet?

Better still, why isn't the phone/software that my friends are using to send those messages also transcribing the messages using a voice typing system and posting the text to that same RSS feed in parallel so that I can receive the gist of it in my Instant Messenger of choice? Making each phone responsible for speech to text means the servers only have to receive, store, and forward - all the tricky stuff is done at the client ends.

Bonus points: If you can see how podcasts and vidcasts can become just another feed into and out from this stream which is getting delivered to my cellular, portable, and fixed phones.

And that leads to the other thing. IP telephony providers give you - joy of joys - yet another bunch of numbers for people to remember if they want to reach you. Do you know why? Because they must occasionally cross calls to the old traditional network, which was born from plug and socket switchboards - and then the infrastructure was put in place for a pulse dialling system that only understood the digits 0 to 9.

In this day and age there is no reason whatsoever to still use this system, and in this age when a simple software like DNS has provided us with the capability to type "www.zencookbook.com" and have the DNS automatically and transparently connect our browser to 203.161.75.114, why isn't there a WPNS to do this for White Pages so we don't have to worry if we mean "teddlesruss@hotmail.com on MSN" or "2427127 on ICQ" or "409249807 on Australian cellphone service," or all the other places I can be reached at, and instead the WPNS can work backwards through all the last known points of my presence and eventually to my answering/presencebot service. If someone knows any one of my public names, WPNS will deal with it and find me, or at least find where I want the message to go to.

Why can't I access my Facebook messages from this fixed phone here via text to speech? Because there is no - none - zero - zip - zilch - nada - integration or seamlessness whatsoever between the Internet and the traditional telephone services. Oh yes, I can check some things, but it's going to need me to carry a seriously awkward and hard to remember series of cryptic number strings around with me. An IP based landline phone, on the other hand, with a touch screen, now that would rock at this kind of thing. (As would a cellphone, yes, but let's be serious here, I don't like paying through the nose for social networking. Maybe if telcos pull up all the copper and rely only on cell, and adjust prices to match - but until then, not economical.)

Anyone can come up with communication's next killer app - but someone has to take the plunge and start shaking hands with the other contestants, start grabbing all those disparate threads and weaving the next Twitter or Facebook out of them.

When someone does, we'll be waiting...

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