Each installment of VC Daily’s Future of Video Conferencing interview series gets an industry leader’s take on how video conferencing is changing their industries now and what new video conferencing technology might mean for the future.
Todd Carothers is the executive vice president of sales and marketing for CounterPath Corporation, which offers VoIP software and solutions that seek to create a unified communications experience, including Bria, a softphone client that lets users make audio or video calls on any device.
VC Daily: What impact will the popularity of workplace collaboration tools such as Slack have on unified communications? Will we see a single interface for all workplace messaging, video conferencing, and unified communications?
Carothers: Slack is already having an impact on unified communications (UC), as it is adding to an already fragmented landscape of UC tools that are in use today. The emergence of Slack has showcased the need among enterprises for an effective team messaging tool. Clearly, email alone has become inefficient as a means for helping teams collaborate, especially for teams within a single organization. But, the flood of new, distinct, non-integrated UC tools that all claim to be the “answer” has actually contributed further to the problem. With the broad variety of solutions that are available on the market, our communications are actually becoming less unified.
Rather than the current state, where organizations struggle to knit together disparate solutions that were never meant to work together, what is needed is a simple, flexible way for enterprises to actually unify their various UC solutions so that true workplace collaboration can occur. The new approach must allow each worker to use their preferred device to seamlessly communicate with the rest of their team—all of whom are on their own preferred devices—in real time, on any call platform and on any network.
Ideally, it will put the softphone-enabled user experience first and allow users to escalate their communications as the situation require—such as by starting with messaging and then seamlessly adding in voice and then video and screen sharing as needed, all without having to bring in other solutions or jump from one communications tool to another. When each team member can use his or her preferred device and interact seamlessly, then true team collaboration will have arrived.
VC Daily: Why should a company choose VoIP video calls over another video conferencing service?
Carothers: I don’t think they should have to select between the two. It should all depend completely on their specific communications requirements for the task at hand, and they should be able to seamlessly move between the two as needed. To explain, with a softphone-based approach, users can have a simple VoIP video call if there are just a few people participating and no other conferencing features are required. However, if they then need a much richer experience to accomplish a goal or task, the softphone-based approach will allow them to easily escalate from that video call to a comprehensive conferencing session, pulling in the full scope of communications tools as required.
VC Daily: How do you maximize the quality of a VoIP video call when many of the key components, such as a user’s hardware and broadband connection, are beyond your control?
Carothers: Today, the majority of devices can support HD voice and video through the correct selection of encoding technologies. In other words, the technology used to encode the voice and video path into internet packets is critical. The best way to manage bandwidth is to downgrade the encoding capability. Of course, that comes at a cost of quality.
Today, premium softphone technologies can adjust this capability real-time as broadband conditions change. In other words, if the broadband connection is great, the audio and video encoder can provide the best quality. However, if the broadband connection degrades during the call, the encoder can downgrade the quality (using less bandwidth), enabling the call to continue, albeit with poorer quality.
VC Daily: What measures will we see in the near future to improve VoIP quality of service, especially with heavy data uses like video conferencing?
Carothers: I think we will see a lot of activity in the ‘last mile’ as we look to improve VoIP quality of service in light of heavy data uses like video conferencing. While caretakers of the core internet have taken steps to improve quality based on service type, the last mile still faces challenges due to issues such as end users being able to enforce local quality of service policies on their own and the lack of coordination between the provider and the end user. I think we’ll see steps such as last-mile enforced quality of service and easily managed home router settings to prioritize delay-sensitive traffic and better compression of video that will leverage less bandwidth.
VC Daily: CounterPath has SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) clients for iOS and Android, which allow free video calls around the world—how radically can such technology reduce the telecommunications budget of the average small-to-medium business?
Carothers: CounterPath has leveraged a signaling protocol called SIP that handles setting up of calls and enacting features. The vast majority of VoIP solutions use SIP, which supports peer-to-peer calling and essentially can result in free calling. Given this, why is it not heavily pushed between operators or even within their own networks? Some will say it is due to security, complexity, or scale. It’s really a business model issue as VoIP providers don’t like “free.” However, the cost savings could be dramatic—over 63% cost savings based on our estimates.
VC Daily: How will VoIP/CoIP products such as Bria work with the Internet of Things in both the home and office in the near future?
Carothers: There are similarities between the way that the IoT can act as a controller for multiple aspects of our work and home lives and how our Bria solution is at the center of everyday communications. Given that, we can envision a day when IoT devices or sensors ubiquitously assist us with the flow of communications, helping to make communications much more efficient as well as much more personalized.
At CounterPath, we have already seen a rise in integration requests related to the IoT space, for example, sensing when a specific end user enters a meeting room and then automatically setting the Unified Communications and Collaborations (UCC) solution to the correct virtual meeting room.
VC Daily: How does VoIP prepare us for virtual office spaces and shared online collaboration?
Carothers: Bria is a great example of how VoIP is enabling virtual office spaces and shared online collaboration. Customers today depend on Bria to deliver enterprise-grade communications experiences from wherever they are. With Bria, people have the same high quality, secure communications they’d receive in their corporate office while they are working from temporary office spaces, hotel rooms and lobbies, conference centers, and remote or branch offices. It expands the concept of workspace to include virtually any location where a person needs to communicate and collaborate to get a job done. Knowing that workers have that enterprise-grade communications capability, even when they are not sitting in the enterprise, is helping organizations further accept the idea of remote working and virtual office spaces.
VC Daily: What is the relationship of VoIP/CoIP and WebRTC? Are they in competition? Or they best used together? Do you see one ‘winning out’ over the other?
Carothers: There is significant confusion about what WebRTC is. Simply put, WebRTC is a media stack embedded in a browser. It’s not a VoIP client or a UC client. We have many customers that have tried WebRTC to build VoIP calling capabilities, but they have failed. This does not mean that WebRTC is a bad technology. But, it needs to be applied appropriately. For example, a great use of WebRTC is voice/video chat. However, for robust voice, video, messaging, and collaboration, it lacks the capabilities and performance these communications tools require.
We use WebRTC in a way that is similar to how we use other technologies—we leverage it where it supports the best user experience. In short, it’s not a matter of Bria vs. WebRTC. Rather, it’s about which product or technology best meets the customer’s requirements.
VC Daily: Products such as Bria obviously make off-site, telecommuting roles more practical; what percentage of the general workforce do you think will work remotely by the year 2025?
Carothers: We estimate that approximately 53% of the general workforce will be heavy users of mobile UCC by 2025, including remote workers as well as workers that are technically not telecommuters but who travel frequently for their jobs, and people that embrace the ‘work anytime, work anywhere’ idea in order to achieve more of a work/life balance. The entire concept of office buildings is changing, and by 2025, what we currently see as ‘the office’ will look much different.
VC Daily: What does the home office of 2025 look like?
Carothers: We predict that there will be significant integrations that tie disparate solutions together so that end users can communicate easily across different devices, platforms, and networks.
Workers will be free to utilize the devices and applications they most prefer in their home offices and still be able to communicate effectively with their coworkers, partners, and customers, as they’ll have access to the same enterprise-grade, feature-rich UCC capabilities their peers in corporate offices enjoy.
We will see video grow in priority—it will be the norm for most communications events, rather than a “nice to have,” and all of our home office devices will have video capability. Home offices may also be equipped with AR/VR tools that improve a worker’s effectiveness. As enterprises ramp up their embrace of AR/VR and craft new use cases, these technologies will quickly move from the core office to the home office, enabling workers to be just as effective from their homes as from their offices. We may see AI and machine learning move to the home office as well, with digital personal assistants becoming commonplace.
CounterPath’s theme into the future will be to integrate the best user experience from the softphone into the network. This means interjecting the softphone user experience into the communications flow so that users can control how they communicate based on their immediate requirements. To enable this, CounterPath will continue to build in integrations that trigger events and capabilities required for communications. For example, if a user calls into technical support for a particular product, the service representative will have the softphone experience integrated into their customer relationship management (CRM) system and also their tech evaluation tools. This means that, first of all, that the call information will be recorded into the CRM and, second of all, that services such as screen sharing will be used to see the customer’s screen on the tech’s device to help guide the service agent through the fix.
You will also see additional services available from CounterPath that support the softphone user experience. While the focus of these services will be on integrations between disparate services, it will also include the creation of cloud solutions—private or public—that will incorporate the end-to-end communications experience required for service providers or companies to roll out their own full-featured UC solution. This will ultimately enable users to receive the integration of services that they require for their job or business.