Unified Cons

Posted by Voipfone on December 1, 2020

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Video conferencing is increasingly getting me down.

Before COVID we had phone conferences for business which were fine, they didn’t require any technology, just dial into a number. They didn’t mess with your life too much, you could do it with a three-day beard while making a cup of coffee and scratching your backside if you wanted to. I mostly did it lying on my back on the bed. Video conferences were for family overseas and you used Skype – remember that?

But now everybody wants to Zoom or Team or Meet, or some more obscure video conferencing variant – a quick google comes up with almost a dozen more.

They’re all unique but they have one thing in common – none are what us telephony types call interoperable. Interoperability is the holy grail of communications. If you have a landline or a mobile phone number, anyone in the world using any network or phone can call anybody, and you can call them. That’s truly amazing. I remember thinking how utterly incredible it was that I was once driving along the M25 having a conversation with someone in a phone box in Mexico – not just that it was possible technically, but that the world had worked out how to pay everyone in the network chain something for doing it.

Imagine if your iPhone couldn’t call an Android phone or if a BT landline couldn’t call a mobile phone or a TalkTalk customer.

If Voipfone couldn’t interoperate with all the phones in the world, it couldn’t exist.

But all these video conferencing applications only work with themselves inside their ‘ecosystem’. This means I have to have three different apps on my desktop each with its own password and security issues, each preferring a different browser (no video with Teams on Safari!) and each demanding I learn their quirks. Unified communications it ain’t.

But also, it’s a crap way of working. We tried it years ago and quickly abandoned it, we decided that we didn’t want to look at each other and certainly didn’t need to, you can’t make eye contact so there’s no actual added value except to check out the wallpaper.

I normally attend a couple of industry award events every year – the ITSPAs – and the ISPAs – but of course this year they had to be postponed and were instead eventually done online by video conference. As a substitute for the real thing video could not even begin to compete, but as a means of not abandoning the event completely they worked, but only just. One fell to pieces when a connection was lost with the guest speaker (actually rather a blessing truth be told) – a circumstance that seems almost obligatory. Boris lost his Zoom into Parliament – this is not a system that a country can rely on.

Thankfully the award events weren’t actually video conferences as such, more like a video broadcast. We could see the presenters but they couldn’t see us. We couldn’t see the others in the audience and we couldn’t speak to each other, except by instant message. The more successful of the two went quite well, it was more tightly controlled, relatively short, funny and professionally compared. It’s just a coincidence that that one was the one we actually won.

Voipfone’s free call conference service is here.

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