Try using the words Telephony (i.e. voice services) and Innovation in the same sentence and you’re bound to get some strange looks. This de-facto oxymoron is the byproduct of the industry’s focus on other areas mixed with the notion voice services have been around for over a century (so what could possibly be new under the sun?). In this world of cloud this, content that and social whatever the closest carrier voice services come to the spotlight is by riding the coattails of Unified Communications (as a humble building block). And while UC is pretty cool, making phone calls and joining conferences as part of a software platform seems far from glamorous. All this focus on cloud and “_________ as a service” (I’ll let you fill-in the blank), makes it easy to forget Voice was the first cloud-based application, and as such deserves to be an integral part of the discussion.
Last month I had the opportunity to attend a couple of seemingly disparate conferences: MobileCon (the newly re-vamped wireless industry show in San Diego, CA) and TwilioCon (a geeky developer conference geared around a company called (you guessed it) Twilio and their API-based voice and SMS platform in San Francisco, CA). Aside from the use of “Con” as the last part of the conferences’ names (wouldn’t “Pro” make for better marketing than “Con”? Just saying.) and the fact they both took place in California (a welcome retreat from Colorado’s unpredictable fall weather), both of these conferences provided me with a reminder of the vibrant innovation still taking place in the stodgy area of telephony. A window into the possible, if you will.
At MobileCon, I had the opportunity to meet with several Level 3 customers who are doing cool things with Voice. Take, for example, textPlus, who has been making a name for themselves providing your teens (and other consumers of all ages) the ability to turn their iPad or iPod Touch into a full-fledged phone –complete with the ability to make and receive calls as well as SMS messages. Their business model includes free text messaging and allows for users to earn free calls by playing games, watching a video or ordering services from partners (or do it the old-fashioned way: pay for the minutes). Toktumi, another customer whose sleek Line 2 service is a pleasure to behold as it transforms a professional or SMB user’s iPad into an integrated phone extension. That physical desktop phone in your office is now officially an endangered species. It’s replacement: an app on your smart device which integrates seamlessly to other apps making it easier to be productive. Bring it on!
I must admit TwilioCon was something else. As a forty-something, I felt like the oldest person on the thousand attendee roster (not to mention the most overdressed). It was eye-opening to watch this highly caffeinated group of twenty-somethings furiously typing code on laptops and tablets as presenters introduced tips and tricks for creating voice and SMS applications using TWIML (their proprietary mark-up language). With a few simple call-flows as building blocks, the range of applications these youngsters were creating was impressive. Their applications range from voter registration to an over-the-top wireless phone; from a calling tree for parents to connect anonymously to a web client for home-based contact center agents. It seems the secret to creativity in the world of telephony involves red bull, burritos and an accessible programming platform (and yes, it helps if you call it a hackathon).
Come to think about it, voice’s ability to play the role of a “humble building block” (making it accessible to any application) may be its biggest selling point. Combine that with the fact that talking is the most natural form of communication and you have the makings of a powerful source of innovation ready to be tapped by all sorts of new and re-imagined applications. I’m curious to hear whether you have you seen a creative use of voice lately and whether you have any ideas for voice applications waiting to happen.