Tuesday 21 December 2010

Communications technology predictions for 2011

The end of the year is always a traditional time for looking back on the previous 12 months – and looking forward to try to prepare for what’s to come. Rather than just put down my ideas, I captured some of the thoughts from Aculab’s global team to see what they thought would be the technical trends to look out for. So, without further ado, here are Aculab’s top three predictions for communications technology in 2011:-

Cloud-based communications will continue to gain in importance

Cloud computing will continue to shake up the established way of doing things, both for operators and equipment vendors such as ourselves, throughout 2011.

Cloud communications – the use of someone else’s server hardware to host your platform – sounds ideal as it eliminates CAPEX and reduces OPEX, but brings with it new challenges for time sensitive voice communications.

Call centre servers are perhaps an ideal candidate for being migrated to the cloud. With flexible server capacity on offer, for example Amazon’s EC2 platform, the processing power for a call centre can be adjusted according to demand ‘on the fly’, opening up possibilities for provision of campaign specific call centres without huge OPEX investments. Several call centre vendors are already providing cloud or virtual call centres, an example being
NewVoiceMedia in the UK. Watch for other call centre platform vendors moving into this space – will they survive if they don’t take the leap?

Aculab is focussed on harnessing all the capability of our hardware and software-based media processing platforms to meet the needs of the cloud environment as it moves towards the mainstream.

Video communications will continue to expand predominantly as one-way video applications
I recently bought my son an iPod Touch for his birthday – the new one with FaceTime video calling capability. He has now had it a week or so, but so far has not even tried out FaceTime. Why? – because he doesn’t know anyone else with the same device to make a FaceTime call to! This is just one example of the problem with video calling today – technically possible, but still too niche and lacking standardisation. What a mess we would be in with voice calling if, for example, you could call only the people who had the same brand of phone as you – not too bad if you had a Nokia of course, since they still dominate the overall worldwide handset market with a 32% market share (based on 3Q10 figure analysis), but not so good for anyone else. Thankfully, the world has standardised on the PSTN and a common numbering scheme that all phones – fixed and mobile – have to use. For interconnectivity between VoIP phones, we need co-operation between SIP providers and SIP trunking – but that is another issue…

Another view is that perhaps video calling has been left behind, and the new generation doesn’t need or want it. A common opinion among the younger crowd is ‘why call when I can text, IM chat, post to facebook or send a tweet?’ (I am sure if you have kids you know what I mean). If they don’t see the need to even make a voice call, what chance does a video call service have? That said, perhaps the new breed of tablet devices such as the iPad that offers a good sized screen ideal for video calls will change things – but then again, the iPad is not a mobile – it is a portable computer, more likely to see use at home. The smartphone with its 3.5” or 4” touchscreen is the device most people would carry around all the time – make video calling over WiFi AND 3G reliable and simple to use, then perhaps it will take off. Just don’t hold your breath…

On the other hand, devices such as smartphones are excellent for content consumption, including one-way video. Expect to see a proliferation of services using one-way video in addition to voice capability – much simpler to implement, and actually something end-users would value.

Use of integrated voice and messaging platforms expands
As alluded to above, it seems that what people want is integration of all types of communication – voice, mobile SMS, IM chat, facebook interactions, tweets and video (one-way) – all on one, preferably mobile, platform. This was a common theme mentioned by several Aculab team members in both the UK and the US.

Everything is going mobile, and as smartphones gain traction and consumers migrate from their ‘dumbphones’, then we will see more and more applications migrate from the desktop/laptop computer to a mobile device. With consumers using the single device for all forms of interaction, we will see a growth in mobile advertising. Broadcast of advertisements via text and multimedia messages will be huge in the next few years. I can see the day where you get phone service credits (i.e. you pay less money for service on a phone if anything at all) based on the ads you receive, view or act on. The ability to track this and broadcast the messages in whatever format (SMS, MMS, etcetera) is required offers huge potential to a product such as Aculab’s AMS Server.

Personal unified messaging systems (i.e. same phone number receives comms for multiple phones such as home phone, mobile and office) will be standard, not just a hobbiest item like Google Voice.

The Facebook/Skype integration will be one to watch – the biggest social media platform integrated with the biggest free VoIP service. Can they do more with Facebook than they ever did with the eBay integration?

It looks to be an interesting year coming up.

Wishing all our readers a Happy Christmas – after which the Aculab team will be fully refreshed and ready to take on the challenge of continuing to develop world-class hardware and software to support these new services.


About me
Andrew Nicholson is a Product Manager at Aculab responsible for the Prosody X and Prosody S media processing products. You can contact me
here. Alternatively, follow Aculab using our Twitter account, Aculab.

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