Yesterday I called my dad on my cell phone (neither of us have landlines) to tell him about something his granddaughter did, and a few minutes into the conversation he asked if I were near my computer. If I was, couldn’t we Skype instead? In my home Skype is both the P2P telephony program and a verb for video chat. My dad now prefers to Skype with me rather than talk on the phone, a tipping point of sorts in the way we communicate. He said he grew up watching cartoons where folks like the Jetsons talked via videophone, and since the possibility is here today he wants to use it.
In this multimodal communications world, the phone companies, which still rely on voice for both wired and about a quarter of their wireless revenue, should be worried. Voice revenue isn’t growing in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t if carriers got a bit more creative. So far, data is helping phone companies that have wireless networks as well as those that are providing Ethernet backhaul for anticipated growth in data.
However, the real focus at carriers should be about getting beyond merely providing the pipe in this multimodal world. Check out what BT is doing with its Ribbit acquisition, as an example.
Skype CEO Josh Silverman would certainly be thrilled to hear about my dad’s preferred form of communication, as would the Telepresence folks at Cisco hoping to get the same thing happening in the business world. Silverman told Om in September:
“We are pretty big on video calling,” Silverman told me. The company is putting a lot of resources into building a better video conferencing experience, he said, because he believes that person-to-person video calling is going to be as big as video. That absolutely makes sense because today the definition of communication is constantly changing. In the past, the world was all about voice, then instant messages and now video calling. People are sending messages and status updates via Twitter and Facebook. The communications are now multimodal.
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future my phone calls with be less about voice and more about video, voice, link sharing, and even media sharing all within the context of a television or PC screen. I can turn parts of it on or off as needed. It’s like the vision for social TV that Liz outlined back on March (subscription required) rather than the Jetsons-style videophone that my dad is so excited about right now. The carriers are implementing on this social vision for television, but they should be thinking about adding this to voice as well.