One of the most exciting trends today in the IP communications industry is the spread of real-time communications capabilities into every nook and cranny of the global IP-network infrastructure, including the host of software applications that have access to these networks. This trend promises to create tantalizing new opportunities for not only application and software providers but also for VoIP service providers offering vital termination and other important transport, security, billing, and QoS-related services.
In essence, the separateness of voice/video communications is coming to an end. Traditionally stand-alone applications separated and walled-off from all other data network and computing resources, voice and video communications are now becoming woven into the very fabric of our IP-enabled world. In my previous column, Welcome to the Golden Age of Web Telephony (November 2005 issue), I discussed some of the current incarnations of this trend including the ability to click-to-talk on phone numbers that appear on Web pages and the growing popularity of voice and video as part and parcel of the IM experience. Today, most if not all IM clients support this real-time communications capability.
With the aid of specialized browser toolbars, various application hooks, and other programming wizardry, voice (and in many cases video) communications is fast becoming just another feature available to users of applications running on broadband-connected PCs, laptops, and other myriad IP-enabled devices. Signs of this integration are also evident in many other industry sectors, including the mobile communications, consumer electronics, and entertainment industries. Anyone who has seen their teenage son become absorbed by one of the new, multiplayer Xbox online games knows that real-time VoIP is a key ingredient of that full-blown multimedia experience.
The next phase, I believe, will involve the ability to initiate a voice or video session directly within a host of popular applications, much the same way you can invoke an e-mail communication from within Microsoft Word. Whatever it is youre doing, whether writing a letter or e-mail, piecing together a presentation, developing a spreadsheet, running a database, or most any other computer-based task, youll have the ability to reach out and touch someone with the point and click of your mouse, your stylus, or your voice command. Such integration with everyday software programs promises to create a whole new level of worker productivity and spawn new, feature-rich collaboration capabilities that will help shorten decision making timeframes and boost the overall quality of the workgroup experience.
One area that stands to benefit tremendously is technical and product support. With embedded real-time communications capabilities, software providers (or corporate tech support operations) will be able to field queries directly from users who need help with various features, and provide real-time, step-by-step assistance.
The potential will exist to create new types of customer support services. For example, software vendors could offer specialized Web telephony-based training services, where, for additional fees, users can be guided through a variety of applications tours, or support specialists can be on call to help deal with hair-pulling software issues during late-night marathon work sessions.
The continuing, rapid growth of e-commerce is also clearly a big driver of Web telephony adoption. While current Web telephony models either require callers to be paying subscribers to make Web calls (such as with Teleo) or be part of a network of subscribers in order to make free calls to other members (such as with Skype or Vonage), opportunities still exist for providers to fill service voids. One such void is the Web telephony equivalent of the toll free customer service line. While some pioneering e-commerce companies have text and voice chat set up to help online surfers find the right items, hundreds of thousands (millions?) of other Web sites that sell things dont yet offer online shoppers the ability to connect to a live person in real time. I think the time is ripe for such an offering. IT
Marc Robins is Chief Evangelism Officer of Robins Consulting Group, which offers an array of services to the IP telephony industry. He has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a reporter and analyst, trade show producer and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 24 years. For more information, call RCG at 718-548-7245 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.