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16Jul/101

The future of communication

Snom 870 VoIP PhoneOne of the IT projects I was recently involved in was replacing our aging phone systems. Ultimately we decided on a cloud-hosted VoIP PBX from Vocalocity, but as with most journeys the end result was not the most interesting part.

With the exception of an old security camera system, our company is now completely IP based. Data, video, and voice all travel over a shared IP network via common switches and wiring. Moving forward this should greatly reduce wiring costs and the need for costly rip & replace jobs. Interestingly however, this has spawned some internal debate over the future of communications.

As the world moves away from land line phone services (please move faster, world), I feel the age old schema of telephone numbers and their routing paradigms are ready for death. Does it makes sense in today's age to have a business phone number, cell phone number, and home phone number? Why should my mobile phone have a fixed area code, that supposedly tells a caller where I am calling from? With the growing use of telecommuting this can be applied to business phone lines just as well.

When data travels over the Internet, it does not cost the user a single penny more to reach a site in another continent then it does his neighbor's home web server. Long distance (and even international) calling is a dying concept and I can't wait for its glorious day of defeat.

And that brings me to the most interesting part, if Long distance calling is an idea that will soon be dead, how will communications look in the future? I believe SIP addresses and Google Voice hold some important clues. A SIP address is an alternative to a telephone number for a VoIP based endpoint (think internet telephone). They can look much like an email address (ex: "sip:ross@oceancold.com"), but you can literally dial a SIP address to initiate a voice/video call. Google Voice on the other end allows a user to setup rules that allow them to screen calls. Rules can be setup to block certain callers, forward other callers directly to voicemail, or disable ringing different endpoints during different times of the day.

So with all that, here is my prediction for communications in 2025:

  • Traditional desk phones will still exist but will morph into large touchscreen devices that are driven by your computer (laptop/desk pc) and are more of an accessory than a stand-alone communication device.
  • Each endpoint (cell phones, desk phones, PC's) will have HD video cameras and every call will be capable of video.
  • Traditional voice service on cell phones and land lines will be completely replaced by data services - after all why should a carrier maintain voice and data networks if data itself can also support voice and video?
  • Phone numbers will be replaced with a globally accessible SIP/email type address. The provider issuing you an address (3rd party or the company you work for) will provide tools that allow you to screen based on the caller, domain (@oceancold.com), time of day, and your own availability/presence.
  • The lines between Voice/Video/Text communication will completely blur as your one address allows Unified communication via all media forms and allows your contacts to see your presence info (out to lunch/away/etc) in real time.
  • Your new unified communication address will allow for new levels of integrated communications such as desktop sharing, collaborative white boarding, and real time document sharing/editing.

These may be pipe-dream ideas but if (a very big if - given the fragmentation present today) the different players in the communication arena can come together with support behind a unified communication address, big things will be on the horizon.