It's unlikely that, as Alexander Graham Bell said, 'Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you,' in 1876 down the first practical telephone, the inventor could foresee just quite where the technology would take us. These days, the telephone - particularly in its mobile form - is undeniably ubiquitous. There's one in every pocket across the globe.
However, in terms of genuine advances, it's only relatively recently that we've seen some serious changes to the way we communicate via telephone. Sure, the device in which we make calls has changed considerably, but the way we make those calls is the same. And then along came VoIP.
VoIP - or Voice over Internet Protocol - uses wi-fi to connect us to each other, and it's growing more and more popular by the day, especially with easy-to-use services such as Microsoft's Skype and Apple's FaceTime. As broadband speeds get quicker, and decent wi-fi infrastructure is put in place, that popularity is only going to increase, both at home and in the office.
But why choose VoIP? Cost, for starters. Why pay separately, and by the minute, to make a telephone call when you can just as easily use the internet - which you pay for via your ISP - to speak to someone? Even VoIP services that are subscription-based or require an initial outlay for the VoIP box are, in the long run, cheaper. And as the marketplace becomes more competitive, we're going to see those costs fall. And fall. And fall. That means we'll reach a point where it costs the same to call your granny in Cheshire as it does to call your boss in Japan. And if, for whatever reason, you want to get your granny and your boss in the same conversation, VoIP effortlessly allows for conference calls.
VoIP services also embrace our ever-increasing social side. Want to buzz a photo across to your partner? Or see if your pal is online? Or send a video? You can do that too. It's a media-friendly service. Try doing all of that - or any of that, actually - on a traditional touch-tone phone!
Another factor is the digital clarity that an internet-based service can provide. So no more signals dropping out, crackled responses and having to act like an amateur ham radio operator to work out what the person at the other end of the line is saying. Wherever there's wi-fi, there's VoIP.
No two ways about it, as our internet infrastructure becomes stronger, we're going to see VoIP seriously proliferate. The next generation will laugh at our antiquated telephone systems the way we might snigger at the clunky Betamax. But what's the next innovation?
Currently there's a real emphasis on voice technology - that makes sense, it's the most common way to chat in real life, with real people. Often with dedicated VoIP facilities you'll currently require a box and handsets. That's unlikely to last in the future. More likely we'll see a rise in mobile VoIP, since we not only rely on our smartphones and tablets, they're with us all the time. We're already seeing a few mobile VoIP apps enter the market, and that's only going to grow.
Video calling, too, is likely to become standard, as our broadband becomes superior, stable and pervasive. But just imagine how amazing it will be when 2D calls make the leap to 3D video. Beyond that, even, could we one day reach the point where holographic representations of the people we call are beamed directly from our tablets and smartphones? IBM certainly think so.
We're on the cusp of a telephony revolution, with VoIP front and centre of that development. We've sure come a long way since Alexander Graham Bell invented the first telephone. But we're only now beginning to advance upon it.
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