Wireless Week: Making the Mobile Video Call

View the full article: Wireless Week, August 8, 2011

Back when SMS was coming up in the world, grumpy old men everywhere wondered why in tarnation anyone would want to type what they could say in a simple voice call from the old rotary hanging on the wall. We all know how wrong Grandpa was about that one.

Now here comes mobile video calling, and the stodgy naysayers are wondering why in the heck anyone would want/need to look at the person they're talking to. You can hear the old man saying: 'It's not like you're that darn good looking anyway, Son.' But then Grandpa gets a heart-melting look at his new minutes-old baby granddaughter who lives 2,000 miles away and he's a believer in 'picture calling.'

The question is whether it's just Grandpa who's driving adoption of the technology or end users en masse.

It Takes Reach, Interoperability to Tango

To be sure, a number of applications and services offer ways to chat using video from both desktops and mobiles. Tango, FaceTime, fring, ooVoo, Google, Qik, Skype, among others, all offer variations of the technology. But just like our old friend SMS, interoperability may be the key to driving growth and expanding reach...

The Golden Egg

If interoperability is the golden egg for video calling, then it's Aylus Networks that believes it can deliver on that promise. The company provides an infrastructure that will allow operators to roll out seamless video calling, across platforms, networks and devices, as an integrated part of every call.

Mark Edwards, CEO of Aylus Networks, says that carrier-based video calling is the next evolutionary step for the technology. "As video calling really starts to take off, the value comes from allowing users to call anybody, anywhere, whichever system or network or service that they happen to be using," he says.

Edwards says the perfect storm has been brewing for some time now, as high-powered devices with the right characteristics (large screens, fast processors) combine with ubiquitous 3G and 4G networks to create a user experience that actually does what it says on the box.

Consumers, Edwards says, already have been conditioned to understand the technology through various desktop offerings, as well as the recent flood of video calling apps. But it's Skype's big number – 42 percent of all calls in 2010 were video-enabled – that Edwards offers as verifiable proof that there's a market out there just waiting to be nurtured.

But what will happen to the stand-alone app providers if carriers start offering an interoperable solution as a deeply integrated functionality? Edwards says it's good for everyone and will increase monetization, as well as adoption.

"I think it will be very valuable for the user, but I think it will also be very valuable for the app providers, because once you start to have a carrier-based chargeable video call, that probably is one of the most significant steps in allowing those over-the-top providers to monetize their services," Edwards said.

While Edwards acknowledges that users are not going to want to use video in every call, citing poor signals or those early, just-out-of-bed types of calls, but he envisions the technology being assimilated as an optional facet of any call. Granted, he admits that he's talking in the 10- to 15-year timeframe.

Well, Can You See Me Now?

...It's difficult to predict how consumers will react to any technology, and it will be interesting to see what 2011 numbers show about who's calling who and how. Certainly, enough players are getting in on the act to stir up interest, but whether or not the interest hits 'critical mass' remains to be seen.