Can You See Me Now? The Future of Video Chat

The unveiling of the next generation iPhone tomorrow isn’t just the next iteration of an iconic phone, it may also be one of the first handsets to bring mobile video chat to the masses. The iPhone 4G will almost certainly offer its owners the chance to video chat on their phones thanks to a front-facing camera, and that new capability could spur more video chat adoption. In fact, a new report from GigaOM Pro’s Alfred Poor and Michael Wolf estimates that by 2015 video chat will grow from just under 600 million video calls to 30 billion, helped in part by the growth from video chatting via mobile phones.

The report, “Can You See Me Now? The New World of Consumer Visual Communications” (sub req’d) explains how ubiquitous high speed broadband connections and low-cost and integrated webcams make it easy for consumers to connect not just with voice, but with video. For example, I’ve written how my dad no longer wants to talk to me, when he could video chat instead, and Skype CEO Josh Silverman, Cisco and even Logitech are placing their bets on video calls becoming a bigger presence in people’s lives for work and play.

The report goes into depth on the current and emerging players in video chat, as well as breaks down the numbers of video calls that will take place on a PC, television and on mobile phones. The PC keeps its lead over the other two through 2015, but video chat via mobiles makes noticeable gains by 2012 and grows rapidly through 2015. The report anticipates 3.2 million consumers will complete video chats via their mobiles in 2010 (after the iPhone 4G, Skype is releasing a Nokia N900 video chat client) and expects that to reach 142.9 million by 2015.

For Internet Service Providers, the growth of video chat is both a source of concern and possible extra revenue. Video chats take up far more bandwidth than a voice call depending on the quality, and both wireline and wireless operators are concerned about how that traffic may affect their networks. On wireline networks, caps, tiered pricing plans and network management tactics that slow broadband during times of congestion or during certain hours could hinder video chat.

On mobile networks, which have limited capacity, operators are already implementing different pricing plans in order to condition customers to watch their usage. AT&T the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, just killed off its unlimited plans for new iPhone subscribers last week, perhaps in anticipation of the effects video chat could have on its network.

But there’s no question that video chat is coming, and that it will change the way people communicate. For those who want to learn what roadblocks still lie ahead for the technology, how people may pay for it and more details about how quickly it will grow, read the full analysis.

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