Most people I know these days don’t communicate with friends, family and colleagues on a set schedule. Instead they talk, text, FaceTime and engage on social media in a continuous stream of communication.
“So where does this leave the conference call?” people often ask me. Has the notion of convening groups at a set time on a set line with a set agenda become as archaic as the Sunday night phone call with Mom and Dad?
I don’t believe so. In fact, the more mobile and dispersed we get, the more valuable the conference call becomes, for it allows a level of collaboration and group idea generation that’s otherwise difficult to achieve. With collaboration comes innovation, with innovation business success.
At the same time, our notion of what group conferencing is has to change to accommodate the shifting dynamics of the mobile revolution. The standard conference call hasn’t evolved for 20 years. It’s time to bring it into the 21st century. Here, then, are some trends that I see driving the future of communication in the work place.
Bizumers flex their muscles
Personal and professional lives used to be segregated. You went to work, did a job, finished it, then came home. These days, work and domestic life constantly commingle. Professionals who in their personal lives are tech-savvy consumers of technology — using tablets, smartphones, and the innovative apps that come with them — are therefore frustrated by the fact that when they get to the office they find outdated, difficult to use, and unintuitive technology.
The popular term for these tech-frustrated employees are “bizumers,” and increasingly they’re pushing for the ability to bring your own device (BYOD) to work and to leverage Web 2.0 services and cloud-based freemium apps that make life easier and more efficient.
The scramble in IT circles to accommodate bizumers is already underway, as the flood of mobile enterprise solutions and consumer/enterprise devices at last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona revealed. As this process continues, there’s going to be immense pressure to evolve away from a clunky conference call experience that requires long dial-ins, PINS, and other bothersome features toward automated apps that streamline the process, are mobile optimized on all devices, and provide better sound quality and greater transparency into who’s talking when.
Bye bye bandwidth concerns
In 2013, one in 25 people had access to 4G. That’s pretty slim pickings. By 2017, that ratio is projected to climb to one in four, and 5G will have swept into large swaths of the world. South Korea has already heavily invested in 5G, for example, which makes downloading a movie take under a minute.
With the uptake of 4G and 5G, bandwidth constraints will go out the window, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones and services will become far more attractive and effective than traditional telephony solutions. As Facebook’s recent $19-billion acquisition of WhatsApp would suggest, smartphone solutions that work around expensive carrier services by harnessing the Internet are already gaining traction and will be standard in the near future.
Conference calls will therefore need to raise their anchor and set sail away from dial-in, telephone-based technology toward VoIP, app-based solutions that offer superior sound quality and functionality.
The third trend that will influence the future of mobile communication is the emergence of WebRTC. If you run in techy circles, you’ve probably heard this term quite a bit. If not, probably not. The long and short of it is that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been hard at work for the last few years drafting a new application programming interface (API) that will enable browser-to-browser applications for voice calling, video chat, and peer-to-peer file sharing without plugins.
What this means for the typical consumer is an explosion of web-based apps with voice and video sharing capabilities and services. Expect to see whole new customer experiences, such as audio embedded for real-time customer support on any site — and other use cases that haven’t even been identified yet but will become available to consumers as designers start to innovate with WebRTC at their fingertips.
As for mobile conferencing, with WebRTC developers can compress, send, and mix voice data streams with far more ease and clarity. They also can manage those voice streams with a greater degree of security, meaning that big companies that have historically shied away from peering applications like Skype (because they’re difficult to secure with so many streams coming from different locations, the operator has no control on the quality of the streams, and bandwidth increases rapidly with the number of participants) will feel secure embracing these apps.
WebRTC is a particularly exciting frontier, and several companies made industry-first strides to integrate it into their solutions, bringing a whole new caliber of clarity with it. But WebRTC is not enough. It provides the clarity of voice, but not the context to bring the dynamic of sitting around a table with colleagues to life in the mobile experience.
To replicate the natural conversation, you need to hear the voice in 3D or better yet in 3DHD – the 3-dimensional high-def conferencing brings different voice streams into your phone and delivers them to your ear with a spatial element. If a speaker’s avatar is located on the left side of the use interface, that voice sounds like it’s coming from the left. Same thing goes for those avatars on the right. The result is natural conferencing.
Think of it as the traditional conference call dressed up for the 21st century—mobile optimized, bizumer friendly, device agnostic, WebRTC-centric— the way the future trends of mobile communication demand.