As phone calls move to the Internet

It’s 2017 and the quality of the average WhatsApp and FaceTime call in Bombay and other cities has gotten better than that of a regular voice call.

There’s also enough anecdotal evidence to suggest regular voice call quality has in fact dropped: voices scrambled or cutting out; calls dropped even when not moving between cell towers.

As operators optimize for data over voice, both with bandwidth and pricing, people will soon prefer calling others over these services than a regular phone call, and soon it’ll be the norm.

This is also exciting because there’s a robust application layer for voice-over-IP (and video over IP); most major messaging applications have or are building voice & video calling capabilities: Skype, Duo, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Slack. Most have easy interfaces to add and remove people to/from calls, message alongside a call, and save these recordings and messages.

As text <> speech tech gets better (not in small part due to work on voice driven assistants), transcribing calls with be easy too. Skype has had an early version of real time translation working for a while now. People can already take and make calls from/to other Apple devices (iPad/Mac), and more messaging apps will likely offer this. And who knows what experiences AR will bring to this.

In an alternate world, operators (carriers/telcos) would have made it easy for third parties to build services on top of regular voice networks. That’s not what happened, though, and they have become dumb pipes. Short of dismantling a neutral Internet, I don’t see how they can become anything other than utilities (not that that is a bad thing).

This also shows how important, no critical, open standards are. None of this would have been possible without a published TCP/IP protocol, so an iPhone on a Vodafone 4G connection in Bombay can make a Whatsapp call to an Android on Wifi in Buenos Aires. Of course each of these video/audio services are closed, non-interoperable, and that will bring with it its own set of problems in the years to come.

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