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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A few thoughts on the IIT RTC conference

Last week I attended the Illinois Institute of Technologyconference on Realtime Communications. I enjoyed it immensely – not a huge event (maybe 150-200 or so people, spread across various tracks), but a really good mix of attendees and topics. As well as WebRTC and cloud communications, it covered more general aspects of IP voice, IoT networks and applications, a touch of 5G, and quite a lot on public safety / NG911. Quite a bit of technology, but also a decent focus on use-cases and business. And well-curated to avoid obvious corporate pitches, even by sponsors.

There were many of the “usual suspects” for WebRTC, VoIP & APIs there – among them Chad Hart, Tim Panton, Emil Ivov, Alan Quayle, Dan Burnett, Ivelin Ivanov, Andy Abramson, Vladimir Beloborodov, Robin Raymond and James Body. But there was also a good representation of service providers (eg Comcast), and major IT/enterprise comms vendors with WebRTC leanings, including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, Avaya & Unify, plus assorted smaller developers (for a mini TadHack hackathon), academics and students from IIT, and a few industry veterans like Henning Schulzrinne (former FCC CTO) and Richard Shockey (SIP Forum). Google participated remotely (especially on the topic of ORTC), and GenBand was also there in force, with its Kandy bus outside for a day.

I did a general presentation on the WebRTC market status (there’s now more than 100m active users, various new use-cases, and 20+ service provider deployments – more details soon). I also moderated a panel on contextual communications (with Tim, Ivelin & Santhana from GenBand), and participated in one with Henning about the evolution of “identifiers” and especially the future role of the phone number. I picked up a lot of new insights into areas such as WebRTC+IoT (more soon), the state-of-the-art for mobile WebRTC implementation, and the technical/regulatory/financial challenges of future forms of public safety networks and emergency communications.

A couple of quick thoughts I’ll expand on in other posts or reports in coming weeks:
  • IBM made a great point about using IoT events to trigger a separate WebRTC communications session, eg a temperature sensor in a machine kick-starting a video/audio session, when it hits a threshold
  • The fragmented nature of US emergency communications tells me that while 911/NG911 will remain as “lowest common denominator”, we will see various other higher-level emergency apps on smartphones for particular uses. Ideally, there would be an emergency API that developers could use inside any mobile app, as well as having support for the native dialler
  • Interesting presentation & ideas by Thomas Howe about the use of automated interaction with businesses via SMS (see just justkisst.me
  • Great presentation from Chris Rezendes about IoT - using the fascinating example of water metering/monitoring, also also asserting the resurgence of SMEs
  • As we go towards 5G (& also SDN), we’re seeing another attempt at defining “quality classes” in networks – but what is the right “level of abstraction” to encourage app-developers to be interested in network performance? And do developers actually want to ask for certain QoS levels (or even pay for it)? There seems to be a good argument that developers want to have something like a “network status API” that allows them to manage variable network conditions, rather than necessarily ask for specific quality or assurances.
I also did an interview with NoJitter during the event, about contextual comms - there's a great write-up by Beth Schultz here.

I go to a lot of good events, but I have to say that overall this was one of my favourites when it comes to understanding “what’s next?” in communications, without an overdose of corporate spin. In some ways it reminded me of the old and much-missed eComm conferences. 

Many thanks to the organisers - I’ll definitely be back next year, especially as Chicago is such a great city to hang out in for an extra couple of days. (The picture below is one of mine taken from the lake with #nofilter, as Instagram would say)

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