Real Time Communications Featured Article

Make Mine Mobile: Why Size Will Not Matter

September 08, 2015

With CTIA taking place in Las Vegas this week along with a new Apple iPhone announcement expected, mobile once again takes center stage.  T-Mobile announced it is now supporting seamless video calling on mobile devices while Acer showed off a mobile phone that can double as a fully functional PC.  Real time communications (RTC) is the beneficiary as all computing evolves to a mobile first mode, because smartphones will be the standard computing platform within five to ten years.

Consumer video calling has been a dream of the telephone industry dating back to the mid-1960s, with AT&T demonstrating prototypes that ran on copper wire landlines. The combination of the smartphone and better cameras has enabled mobile users to conduct video calls from anywhere, but you can get a better experience – and likely a longer call, given battery life right now – on a tablet.

However, video on a mobile phone has often required downloading a specific client, then convincing anyone you want to call to use that same client, and then typically starting up a chat session to make sure the person is on line and using the client before you kick into video mode. It’s been cumbersome, with a lot of unseemly scrambling for users, a lot of stats on who runs the most video minutes, and the always-awkward “How to translate calls from a mobile environment into a larger screen experience?”

WebRTC provided a breakthrough by enabling voice and video browser-based communications as a standard means of communications, but it doesn’t support always on dial-tone like the traditional PSTN-based calling world. People aren’t locked into a proprietary OTT ecosystem, but they still have to have the client up and on to make a call. 

T-Mobile’s breakthrough is to use RCS and LTE and all the parts and pieces that have gone into making the two technologies work to enable seamless video calling at the touch of a button.  If you want to video call someone on the T-Mobile network – assuming you have the supported phone, of course – push the video button and the phone “rings.” All the other person has to do is accept the call and it just happens. There’s no downloading of clients, no fussing with having to have an app spun up on line waiting (and eating power in the background), it all just works.

Currently supported on the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, Galaxy Note 5, with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge coming this week, T-Mobile says it is “working with others so you can eventually enjoy built-in video calling across wireless networks.”  It is possible within a few years you’ll be able to make a video call directly to another phone on another wireless carrier’s network just by “dialing” a phone number and it will simply happen without additional software or signing up for a third party service.

Both WebRTC and RCS have their respective roles to play in convenient real-time communications, but it is the increasing power of the phone itself that is threatening to redefine the concept of “phone” and start killing off larger devices.  Acer’s Jade Primo Windows 10 “phone” uses Continuum, the Windows 10 ability to hook up a monitor, keyboard and mouse, and run the same apps you would on a desktop PC. Supporting equipment provided for Jade Primo include dropping the device – not really a “phone” – into a docking station to drive a large screen monitor.  Voila! Your phone is now the PC!

We are only beginning to scratch the surface of “phones” being full-blown PC devices.  Why would you want to buy a Chromebook when you already have PC power in your phone? BYOD, with the appropriate WebRTC and other cloud services, means businesses can think about getting rid of desktop devices and simply buy universal docking stations for driving screens and charging “phones.”   Do we really need tablets? Does a tablet become a cheaper display device while the phone does the heavy lifting?

Google and Microsoft have been strong advocates of the “Mobile first” approach to the world. RTC is riding this wave through smartphones and the need for apps to be “Written once, run everywhere.”  Size doesn’t matter in this world, so you’ll be able to get RTC wherever you need it.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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