After arriving in Las Vegas on Sunday night, ready for the opening of the Smart Voice program at ITEXPO 2014, I was not disappointed. Voice is developing quickly today, the simultaneous moves into HD Voice and the new networks by which it's delivered, and Monday's panel discussion "Voice Quality: The Cornerstone for Smart Voice Services" initiated a thoughtful examination of where Voice is today, where it's going, and how it's related to other major trends in enterprise and collaboration.
I was glad to appear on three panel discussions at ITEXPO 2014 in Las Vegas - moderating one to talk about the present and future of Voice in live collaboration, and comparing perspectives on two others by discussing the future of the desktop telephone, and the role of Microsoft Lync in the current and coming enterprise. Because my own involvement was concentrated in these areas, I'm not even attempting to give a complete overview of ITEXPO here - this is really just what I saw and think.
All three panels shared the one giveaway sign of a great conference: when the audience is as skilled as the presenters. They may have different perspectives and experience, but their observations and questions assure a rounded perspective and hold a sharp focus. All three audiences added their own depth of background and demand for relevance to the ongoing discussions.
The "Smart Voice" conference prefaced the entire ITEXPO experience. It occupied the full Monday, two days before the main show floor opened, and so assured a tight concentration on the issues of Voice in collaboration. My role as moderator turned out to be keeping the discussion on track, making sure everyone had a fair time to speak and cover all the bases we wanted to cover. Voice is earning increasing attention today; questions about HD Voice now accept that it will happen (is happening), and have moved from the consideration of "whether" to "how." One new battleground is Voice vs. Audio, in which "Voice," like the AMR-WB codec, is optimized for the human voice that lets it boost quality while using less data bandwidth, while "Audio" includes broadly capable codecs like Siren 22, G.719 and the emerging EVS to carry music as well as speech although at higher data cost. Another consideration is licensing (no-fee codecs like OPUS, G.719 and G.722 vs. for-fee codecs like AMR-WB and EVS, all with their accompanying questions about cost, risk and performance). And to tie it all off, everyone's interested in how this all relates to WebRTC which is defined with HD Voice in scope. The issues were not all decided in the session, but were given a fair and illuminating airing.
The panel discussion about applications on the deskphone turned into a lively back-and-forth about the future of the deskphone itself and showed three things: the wired connection brings a critical reliability and simplicity not available in wireless; a desktop device is not going away because it's rapidly evolving to meet new needs; and a dedicated device like a phone makes a perfect host for always-on, enterprise-critical applications. We talked about the important features of a desktop device (let's not call it a "phone" any longer, shall we?), include an open API with an OS like Android, solid construction, and versatile hardware design supporting multiple open interfaces and - in many cases - optimized open-air performance so it can behave respectably if pressed into service as an extemporaneous speakerphone. Given those conclusions, there was agreement that we will be seeing personal tabletop devices for a long time - nobody's going to sit at work clutching their smartphone for eight hours every day.
In the third panel discussion, what emerged was a new realization that Microsoft Lync could be the most disruptive force in the telephony industry today. It takes a while for this to sink in because Microsoft, of course, is big and has been out there for a while with its full spectrum of ideas. Lync sits on the "superb" end of that scale, and is well-integrated with a popular operating system and a full constellation of endpoint and peripheral devices that integrate both voice and video. With these strengths, Lync is quickly growing as a potent candidate for the "best platform" title for connecting and communicating over a unified platform by leveraging solutions that integrate voice and video.
Like every other conference I've attended, I left with regret that I didn't see more of the show and the sessions, but am really pleased that I was able to spend the time with so many industry gurus. It's an important and exciting business we're in, and there are a lot of great people propelling it forward.