Real Time Communications Featured Article

10 Years into the Future of Communications

January 28, 2016

How will we talk to each other a decade from now? Will we even talk? Many have predicted the demise of the phone call, followed by the demise of voice communication as it is replaced by chat – or is chat replacing email, since email is dead? It’s hard to keep track of what is supposed to be dead and what is to be replaced as innovators continue to try new forms and methods to supplement the basics of stock phone calls and email.

A bit of historical perspective would help. The first email between computers happened in 1971, on the predecessor to the Internet, the ARPAnet research network.  Email puttered around in academia for about a decade or two before emerging as a universal tool in the 1990s with the explosion of the commercial Internet.

Call email 45 years old. It’s basically “free” thanks to Google and Microsoft and everyone has at least one email address.  The current version of email is getting a face lift of sorts with threading and upgraded clients, but the underlying technology of text messages with attached files passing between computers hasn’t changed much.

Phone calls have been around for over 100 years and continue to be useful in one-to-one and multi-person conference calls.  I don’t expect that to change since conference call minutes continue to be a battle for the lowest cost per minute and a preferred option for many businesses despite the availability of web conferencing services combining voice, video , presentation and screen sharing.

Texting and multi-person chat is in its prime these days as a quick way to deliver information and to engage in more detailed conversation in real time and asynchronous (time delayed) fashion. Pundits believe chat kills email, but email is can be more formal and detailed as well as being more standardized than the many different flavors of chat clients. If RCS (Rich Communication Services) makes a move, it will be in moving IM and chat services to being everywhere without having to download a specific client – you’ll just have the services automatically on your phone, linked to your phone number as the unique identity.

With video calling standardized in the mobile world via LTE and being used more in over-the-top services such as Apple FaceTime, we’ll see more video usage, but I’m not going to bet on it pushing out voice – you can’t walk and video chat (well). Video advocates are constantly preaching the virtues of the technology, but there continues to be no “big shift” of large scale adoption either in the consumer arena or the business world. I don’t have to worry about what my hair looks like on a voice call or chat.

Virtual reality (VR) looks like a growth industry over the next decade, but if you thought videocalling was a headache, you haven’t seen anything yet.  You need to wear a VR headset of some sort at a minimum more software is necessary to create and sustain virtual environments, and plenty of bandwidth. Some people get VR motion sickness  and it might not be worth the hassle for anyone other than scientists and gamers to get benefit, all science fiction stories aside.

WebRTC’s role in the next decade will be in supporting real time communications in voice and video applications, helping to add more video usage to web pages and applications in a standardized fashion.  It also has a role to play in VR by supporting video and other real time media streams in one-to-one and conference-style environments.

Finally, I have to leave the door open for something unexpected.  Social media was something no one could foresee back in 2000, and today we can’t live without Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Group communication through social media is another tool in the communications toolbox that is still maturing. Will Twitter survive? Can the world support Facebook and Instragram? Will something new pop up to replace them? Only the next decade will tell.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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