December 14, 2000, 11:45 AM — We all know that voice and video over IP networks will do more than reduce toll
charges. VoIP must offer new capabilities far beyond those of the current public
For example, a health care professional might compose a video mail message to a
colleague or patient in a hospital instead of leaving a voice mail. A call placed in
Europe may come into a West Coast bureau with a visual cue indicating that, though the
called party's day is just beginning, business is closing in Europe.
Imagine a call served by an application that understands who the caller is, the
number of previous calls from him or her, all existing business between the parties,
the likelihood of closing new business based on the interactivity of the participants
in the present session, and the cost of the connection!
Or, a multimedia call might begin with a connection to a cell phone, then convert to
a Web conference that incorporates a personal digital assistant for viewing slides or
graphics. Finally, the call could culminate with a live videoconference over a common
IP-based network for questions and answers.
Converting the old telecommunications network so that it can offer new applications
such as these is like refurbishing a 100-year-old Victorian home. One phase will be to
tear down the old plaster attached to the lath in the walls. The plaster ends up in a
giant heap on the ground before you begin to size and nail up the sheetrock. Meanwhile,
those who are thinking ahead take the time, while the walls are bare studs, to upgrade
the wiring. In the end, the results are hidden from the occupants, who then probably
use the building just as they always did.
Unfortunately, two factors stand in the way of remodeling our telephony
infrastructure. First, we don't know what we want to do with the new technologies yet.
Second, while we may be ready to experiment, we need systems that are simple to deploy
and modify to test our applications.
Breaking out of the routine
To address the first point, companies must conduct behavioral studies on the use of
next-generation telecommunications platforms. We need more projects that observe the
impact of new models of communications, such as NetMeeting-supported conferences, on
Such studies are likely to remind us how resistant to change humans really are in
the absence of clear incentives and benefits. Unfortunately, we won't know the rewards
of improved telecommunications until some people take risks.