WebRTC Expert Feature

June 04, 2014

Grandma, Nevermind the Codec -- Just Answer the Text!

I am on a cruise in the Adriatic and nothing is more frustrating than extreme asynchronous communication. Coworkers, lawyers, family and friends all want to be in touch, and while I was doing well on shore at the hotel, the ship has been less than spectacular.


Our carrier has a roaming agreement with the ship, which is expensive, but in comparison to the rates the ship wants to charge, it’s a deal.  The ship’s Internet is a joke and while I see the MTN logo on the other ships in port, I am sure ours has a firewall with QoS that would make every Net Neutrality advocate salivate at the opportunity to rant.

However, the most frustrating part is the family and friends that are technologically challenged. For them, their smartphones are little more than a game console with the ability to take phone calls. And by games I mean single-person, nothing MMPG about their abilities.

I bring this up, because my wife and I were discussing one friend in particular that cannot seem to grasp the concept of iChat. And if Apple can't make the user interface work, it's likely the WebRTC community is going to do much better.

In a way this brings up the issue of the codec wars. You see, no matter what we try, this friend is going to be a nightmare technologically. In previous years, when she was overseas in a hospital, we would call her via Skype but that was Skype Out.  Getting a Skype In-like experience for friends like her is going to be excruciating if the carrier and the Web world cannot agree to get along.

To be candid, I was very hopeful a few years back when Skype and Verizon Wireless made a deal to make a seamless dialer on BlackBerry for international calling. I thought that would be a trend. 

Sadly, we have little pressure on these carriers to fix this problem and even less on the ship.

In port, I have thought about using unlicensed LTE to deliver a service to the harbor and what would it would take to catch people's attention enough to get them to try the service. Candidly, Wi-Fi is much better at discovery, and if alternative services for ULTE are going to be created, it is going to take some real effort.  After all, if I can't get our friend to pick up iChat, what hope do I have of getting her to understand roaming?

Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is simple.  

So now the question is how do I get the user interface to demand an answer to my call? Without the carrier, can the browser initiate the demand for an answer, or must WebRTC live with a Skype In/Out network?

A simple answer may be in the use of SMS to deliver the call initiation -- in effect, making the text a meet point for call setup.

A friend tried this strategy years ago with mixed results. Nowadays this might work, because while my friend remains technically challenged, she does understand texting.

At the end of the day, I am thinking texting is going to be a greater part of the Web and WebRTC than the original specs assumed.  The developers can stay signaling-neutral, but unfortunately the end users can't.

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