Who, or where, are you calling?

It used to be that when we picked up the phone we were always calling the place where we expected the person we were trying to reach to be. This has been changing rapidly towards the concept of calling a person as a result of the worldwide adoption of mobile phones which are not tied to a specific location. The growth in the internet has resulted in many more forms of communications all quite disconnected from our previous modes, with currently no ability to converge all these together. There is a growing desire to continue to gain the benefits of existing location based (fixed) phones and mobile phones but additionally leverage and benefit from the flexibility offered by new IP (VoIP) based technologies. Successfully merging all of these technologies together will largely depend on whether or not a unified experienced can be achieved across these different devices and networks.

Until large scale adoption of mobile phones occurred, our calling paradigm resembled the following. For illustration purposes I have gone all the way back to the old-days of ‘car phones’.

In all three of the above scenarios the person making the call is trying to reach Bob but the fixed nature of the phones involved require that they first call a location and then query as to Bob’s presence.

Since the wide-spread adoption of mobile phones, the picture has changed to look more like the following:

The person calling still wants to reach Bob but since the phone can move locations with him the need to track Bob down through calling multiple locations is removed.

The issue with this is the assumption that Bob has only one method of communication at his disposal – his mobile phone. However this is not the case as the growth of IP telephony has created a number of additional considerations:

  1. Technology has advanced and now Bob can be reached through more means of communications.
  2. These new additional modes of communication are also untethered to a particular location
  3. Bob’s ‘old’ fixed phones which are tied to a physical location have not gone away (short of the car phone of course) thus we now have a mix of location and non-location based means of communication.

The available means and complexity of communication has expanded creating more of a hybrid calling model:

So while the mobile phone has encouraged the view of calling a person, the expanding modes of communication have imposed a problem for Bob. He doesn’t just have a mobile, and moreover he would often like to use other means of communication depending on where or what he is doing at a given time. For example, while sitting at his desk in the office he may prefer the convenience and comfort of his desk phone or while at home he may prefer a mix of WIFI calls on his mobile for short calls and his home phone for longer conversations. Regardless of Bob’s preference however, people want to keep calling “Bob”, but currently it is only his mobile phone that is connected with this idea of calling “Bob” directly.

Now the big question is – how can we make calling “Bob” more universal? Can we satisfy the needs of the people calling, who want to just call Bob, as well as the needs of Bob himself, who wants to use the device that is most convenient for him regardless of where and what he is doing. In most cases today all of the devices above are completely disconnected in that one cannot simply or easily move calls between them or be confident that whoever is trying to reach them will actually call the right device at the right time. What we want is to achieve the vision of what is depicted below:

There are some new technologies on the horizon that promise such simplification of our communication systems. I’ll look at these over the next little while to see what is possible today, what can’t be done currently and where the limitations are in building such a universal system.