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May 29, 2013

WebRTC Ubiquity Makes Verifying Contact Availability Harder, Not Impossible

While telecommunications technology has evolved significantly over the past few years, inevitably shifting toward real-time, synchronous voice and video communications, nearly every aspect surrounding the act of getting into contact with another person has been refined. However, the capabilities of WebRTC break down the barriers between desktop and mobile communications, adding a layer of complexity to user availability.

According to a recent post by Art Rosenberg on the UCStrategies Blog, both parties need to be 'available' for a call to be initiated, but the greater mobility provided by real-time communications makes availability a less solid term. The telephone handles this with voicemail, which allows the caller to leave a message if their call isn't answered within a certain amount of time. But with messaging now becoming real-time and unified — including SMS, IM, voice and video — combined with immediate notifications and always-on mobile devices, managing calls is perhaps too complex for a simple voicemail system.

For example, a call recipient may technically be available according to the call initiator because they are in the middle of another voice or video conversation, but a noisy environment might mean they still can't talk at the moment. Rosenberg says that such environmental considerations also apply to contact initiators and can dictate how communications will be handled over mobile. As such, it's important to consider the communications options available to the contact initiator separately from the options available to contact recipients.

In other words, it's a good idea for the contact initiator to test the waters with the person they wish to contact. Fortunately, instant messaging is tied into most real-time communications solutions these days, including WebRTC-based ones, which can be used to verify that the recipient is indeed available to talk and doesn't just have a green icon next to their screen name.

As Rosenberg points out, this sort of approach is already in use in contact center applications where a "click for live assistance" option is available to customers using online self-services and mobile apps.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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