Yes. Video calling is growing. Yes consumer video chat is upon us. Yes Apple’s FaceTime service will increase demand and usage.
No. it will not be enough. We’re still talking about communication islands.
If you look at the state of VoIP today, it is pretty safe to say that it is growing nicely. It might not be apparent at first sight, but the reason it does is the ubiquity of PSTN. And that is the heart of the matter – we don’t have the same ubiquity for video calling.
Skype is a huge success. Why? Not because you can call friends on Skype, but because you can make international calls with it using Skype Out service. And you can do that because of PSTN.
Same goes for Google Voice.
The glue that sticks everything together here is PSTN:
- It provides a ubiquitous network that you can also gateway with to route calls between services.
- It provides a nicely built international global numbering plan, so you can dial everyone.
How the hell will you be calling from FaceTime to Skype with a video call?
How will you be calling from your office to another company? Do you both need to use the same protocol? Register to the same server or configure the servers to know each other?
That’s the problem with video over IP – as a VoIP industry, we’ve been so focused on finding solutions to connecting systems through servers and building networks and doing interoperability that we forgot the big picture – to build an international network with a true dialing plan – be it URIs, numbers, email addresses or whatnot.
There are a lot who say that Apple should open up FaceTime for external access – I am one of them. But will that help? What would that mean?
Will Nokia provide calling services to Apple devices? What about Android phones coming from multiple vendors? Or Blackberries? And then let’s take it a step further – how do I dial from Android to Nokia, or to Skype users?
There is no lowest common denominator that can be used.
For voice calling there’s always PSTN: you can ridicule it, its prices, its inefficiency, the fact that it doesn’t support HD voice – but you can trust it to be there to connect you to virtually anyone.
It is time we start thinking of video as a global universal service and not as a niche for enterprises or internet companies – Apple included.