One way video is all you really need

Apple-iPhone-4-The-Worlds-Thinnest-Highest-Resolution-SmartPhone-3G.pngIntroduction
The recent announcement by Apple of the iPhone 4 and its support for two-way video chat using the new FaceTime application has once again brought the subject of video communications, and in particular mobile video communications, to the table. As many have already pointed out, this is not a new concept that Apple has invented. The idea of two-way video calls has been around for decades and mobile video call services have been in existence for several years - but with limited take-up. Perhaps this time, with Apple's backing, it might reach mass market.

The power of Apple stems from the way its devices are a pleasure to use. If the FaceTime application can make video calling a simple pleasure, then it is onto a winner. Time will tell, but predictions of the rise of video chat are many, for example from Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM.

Let's wait and see if Apple succeeds with FaceTime...
On the face of it, it might be the right time for video chat (appalling pun, I know, sorry...).

If Apple takes video chat to a mass market state, then perhaps barriers to adoption will be diminished for all types of video application. If the FaceTime application code is also widely adopted (once it becomes open to developers), this too could become a value-add for a contact centre - the ability to engage with your customers in a two-way video chat.

BUT
you shouldn't wait for that...there are many revenue generating video applications that can be rolled out right now.

When people talk of video communications they often think in terms of two-way video, but I would argue that this is a minor application of video technology. Certainly for businesses, there is much more benefit (and profit) to be had from supporting video applications that only send the video one way.

Think of your own current usage of a home computer for video communication applications:
  • Browsing - watching YouTube clips
  • Catch-up TV applications
  • Watching movie trailers
  • Watching an online help guide for a new device you have purchased
All of the above have one thing in common - one way streaming of stored video content.

Now consider how often you use two-way video applications:
  • Person-to-person video call e.g., becoming popular using Skype (they claim 34% of calls are now video calls), but usage is still much lower than any of the above examples
  • Video conferencing from own laptop/PC - even rarer
Why then do we think it will be any different when we consume content on a mobile device rather than a tethered device (laptop or PC)? We will still get the most benefit and, therefore, be willing to pay for applications where watching a video clip, either stored or in real time, would add value and enable us to resolve our particular issue.

So when developers are considering the extension of current voice-centric platforms such as call centre servers and IVVR systems, the addition of one-way video support would give the most benefit. For an outbound call centre, the feature might be useful for help files - short video clips to guide customers with a particular issue. Support for sending the video clip in multiple formats to suit viewing on PC screens or on low and high-end mobile devices should be built-in. This matter will become more acute over time as devices are constantly improving, and networks being upgraded to support higher data rates through technologies such as HSPA, HSPA+ and 4G. Low rate (64kbit/s) video has been possible for a long time using 3G mobile networks; as the networks evolve to become more IP-centric, they become able to support downloads of higher data rates.

Similarly, your video enabled call centre should be equipped to receive video clips. If a user has a problem with, for example, a washing machine, then it might be beneficial for the customer to send a short video clip to the call agent to assist in the fault resolution. If the video can be added to the existing voice conversation, for example, through the support by the call centre application of the IMS Video Share feature, then this can expedite the solution. Of course, the user might simply be able to email the video clip to the call centre staff after the call, but this only delays the problem resolution while the agent waits for the email to arrive, and it also might be that the caller is a repair technician on site and without access to email and only able to communicate via his/her mobile phone.

Conclusion
Scepticism of the benefits of video communications has been around since the first implementations, and is still present with the recent Apple announcements of video chat support on the iPhone 4. But you should not write video off - there are many applications that are straightforward to implement.

With a media platform designed around Aculab's products, for example, video support is easily and cost effectively added by the use of video APIs, which work in a similar way to voice APIs your developers are already familiar with.

In addition, current voice-based platforms, such as contact centre servers and messaging servers do not have to be discarded - they can be upgraded, which will bring customer benefits, and thus increased revenue streams for enterprises - and most of these profitable video applications only need one way video.
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