Video phones have arrived! (But they can’t talk to each other.) Videophones have been coming soon since AT&T demonstrated one at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Today, most phones sold in the U.S. are smartphones, and high-end smartphones have user-facing cameras, adequate screens and high-speed data connections. Plus these phones have chips optimized for video processing, notably H.264 acceleration in hardware, which enables the video stream to be compressed for easier transmission without excessive power drain.
Apple exploits these capabilities with its FaceTime app, which lets iPhone users make video calls to other iPhones, iPads and Macs. Android (News - Alert) phones have a similar application called Google Talk. Many non-U.S. telcos (about 100 of them, according to Jim Machi of Dialogic) use an ITU standard called 3G-324M to provide video calling over the circuit-switched (non-IP) network.
But it is frustrating that while anybody with a phone can make a voice call to anybody else with a phone, they can't do the same with a video call. An iPhone user can't make a FaceTime call to an Android user, and a Google (News - Alert) Talk user on Android can't make a video call to an iPhone. 3G-324M subscribers can only call each other if their providers have executed interoperability agreements, and there is no interoperability between FaceTime nor Google Talk and 3G-324M.
The closest thing to a universally interoperable videophone service is Skype (News - Alert), which works on both iPhones and Android phones; on all PCs and Macs; and on many other devices, like TVs and soon, presumably, Xboxes. This brings Skype a huge competitive advantage in the form of the network effect. But Skype is proprietary to Microsoft.
In keeping with the usual Microsoft/Google/Apple script, Google is pushing to annex videophone capability into web browsers with a new open protocol called WebRTC. Several factors give this effort a chance of success. First, it is consistent with the universally-supported move to HTML5. Second, it is consistent with the apparent trend to cloud computing. Third it is open, and can provide telcos with a counterbalance to Skype. Fourth, web browsers are even more common than Skype, and Android is more common than iOS and Windows Phone (News - Alert). On the other hand, while Firefox and Chrome will support WebRTC, neither Microsoft nor Apple will be motivated to do so in their respective browsers.
This article originally appeared in the January issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.
Michael Stanford (News - Alert) (News - Alert) has been an entrepreneur and strategist in Voice-over-IP for over a decade. Visit his blog at www.wirevolution.com. To read more of Michael’s articles, please visit his columnist. Page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf