The act of circling aimlessly through the woods, phone in hand and held as high as you can in a desperate search for a signal has got rank among the least popular parts of any camping trip.
Should you finally find that perfect spot where a single bar of coverage illuminates, you’re hardly going to have all the internet can offer available to you.
Despite the fact that two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, a figure made more remarkable by the fact 20% of the population is younger than 14, there are still great swathes of land, especially through the Northwest and states like Colorado, Kentucky, and Kansas, without reliable phone network coverage.
Microsoft’s latest gift to India, however, could help bring online services like video calling to the most barren of one-bar locations in the U.S.
India is just about the most important growth market for smartphone sales and related app consumption.
Less than a quarter of its very large population currently own smartphones, but the nation is currently going through a government-backed information technology revolution designed to radically increase the availability and quality of its internet coverage–which will, in turn, drive up demand for smartphones and the apps that are pushing them from luxury to necessity.
That expansion makes the country a very appealing target market for the big tech companies, including, of course, Microsoft. The tech giant has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into India-specific hardware, software, and support for local startups for more than a decade.
Its latest offering is Skype Lite, a streamlined, low data version of one of the world’s most popular video calling platforms, which can handle India’s current low-performance and unreliable internet networks.
Skype Lite for Unstable Networks
The project began life back at the tail end of 2016 as Skype Mingo, before being unveiled to the world as Skype Lite in February this year. At 13MB, the app is half the size of the usual Skype download, and everything about it has been pared down to make it work in adverse conditions.
It consumes less battery than a normal service, is optimized to function on 2G networks and on older model smartphones, and its low data usage setting can be monitored in real-time through an optional sidebar. It even condenses the size of image and data files to take up less bandwidth, leaving users more room to make video calls and send text messages. It also has a spam blocking service, a stable of chatbots, and is integrated with the Indian national ID system for added security.
Its launch has been restricted to India–although some people have found ways to test it out in the U.S.–and there are currently no dates set for its availability elsewhere. Should the service get an official launch in the U.S. though, there’s plenty of reason to think it could make a difference to domestic video callers.
Video Calling in Remote Areas and on Old Phones
Returning to the flailing campers desperately searching for a signal on a mountainside in the U.S., Skype Lite would give them something to functional to do with that single bar of coverage.
Now they can communicate face-to-face with friends and family back home, and share the wondrous views in real-time panorama, where previously they relied on photos and videos sent only once they returned to civilization.
That’s a first-world application of the Skype Lite potential, but there are other more functional uses. Having a visual connection in times of emergency can provide remote medical and rescue professionals with a better understanding of a situation, and let them pass on first aid and other survival advice in easy to understand visual demonstrations.
It would also provide park rangers and staff monitoring sensitive rural and remote areas with a real-time connection back to HQ on the state of any given site–perhaps the full effect of storm damage, or the continued march of soil erosion.
In town, a video calling app primed for use on older phones would allow financially and resource-poor communities to enjoy the benefits of internet communication. Not everyone can afford to continually climb the higher rungs of smartphone processing power that come with each new iteration, and not every town is first in line for a coverage upgrade when the new tech rolls out. Moreover, some basic, inexpensive smartphone plans charge according to data used–Skype Lite could be one way to keep data costs down for low-income smartphone users.
What began as a tool to help Indians bridge the digital divide in their own land could someday soon make life on the fringes of the U.S. technology surge a little more connected.