Is 4G the End of VoIP? Or Is It a New Beginning?

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image courtesy Mashable.com

Voice over IP technology has been used in both the consumer market and to greater effect, the business marketplace, for years. Now that mobile users are starting to see the same benefit in their communications protocols, namely with the advent of 4G LTE technology and WiMAX connections, businesses are starting to integrate mobile phones into their in-house data networks. Of course, this has its own set of barriers to overcome, but this is beginning to be an attractive alternative to the higher price of pushing data through traditional cellular plans. And the rapid advancement of 4G networks has resulted in the advent of VoIP options that can effortlessly retain compliance with older devices.

LTE networks enjoy less disruption than their older cellular counterparts

4G information networks promise to make a seismic shift in the way mobile networks function, and indeed in the entire mobile VoIP market. This is clear when one considers that 4G is not merely an incremental step up from 3G technology, as the name would suggest. Rather, 4G is an entirely different system. For one, there are no bandwidth restrictions with 4G networks, such as those that limited the growth potential of previous IP networks, especially in rural or remote areas. Combining 4G and VoIP technologies – transforming voice into data for transmission, and back again – will transform accessibility to the Internet, making it available anywhere 4G is.

As of this writing, the prevailing standard in 4G communications is Long Term Evolution (LTE) or 3rd Generation Partnership Project Long Term Growth (3GPP LTG). Within the mobile field, something that makes LTE networks unique is that they are entirely packet switched. This means less multi-user and inter-cell disturbances, and also greater throughput. Ultimately, current voice and data plans offered by mobile phone operators might become obsolete. And as VoIP becomes more and more mainstream, continuing advancements in Web technology will continue to shape the way the industry grows.

Mobile VoIP
When considering mobile solutions, VoIP becomes a different matter. In order to conduct a VoIP conversation, a wireless data connection has to be reliable enough to transmit data (or voice, transformed into data) all of the time. Something that works very well is to use a mobile VoIP app over a WiFi network – but then the person on the other end of the call is limited to using the same application. And using a WiFi network has the other limitations of that sort of network, as well – it’s not the same thing as using a WiMAX network, or 4G/LTE. This is why 4G will come to lead the VoIP revolution, if another standard does not rise to challenge it. The usage of VoIP and the apps needed to make use of the bandwidth are normally free. In other words, people are not getting paid for use of these services. One has to wonder if cellular companies will continue to allow this to happen – or if they will evolve with the times, instead.

VoIP is here to stay, regardless of the name it goes by

Something to note is that WiMAX works very similarly to the WiFi one might have in their house, with the most notable difference being the ranges involved. The normal, unobstructed range of WiFi is 150 to 200 feet, whereas WiMAX range is measured in miles or kilometers. LTE is useful in another way, as well, because it enables packet transmissions, which in turn enables mobile broadband. Again, this is far more advanced than the older cellular systems.

So What Happens to VoIP?
For mobile VoIP calls, WiMAX and LTE will certainly function well enough, although it remains to be seen if the price per call in either format will be comparable to the existing cost of wireless calls. Each of these fourth generation protocols are IP based, making them reasonable transport solutions for Mobile VoIP. So will that make VoIP go away? Certainly not. It might be referred to by a variety of different names, such as VoLTE, VoWiMAX, or Vo4G, but bet on the simplest one, because no one likes a cumbersome name.

Can you say 5G?

It’ll still be VoIP, regardless.

 

 

Originally published in April 2014

The Basic Flaw Inside Every Chatbot

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Chatbots are a relatively new addition to the tech landscape.  Last year at this time, they simply weren’t on the radar, for the most part.  Of course, Amazon’s Alexa has been around for a while, and Apple’s Siri for even longer than that.  Chatbots really took off, though, when Facebook released the API platform for its own chat service, Messenger.  That one act spurred developers to create over 40,000 chatbots in eight months.  They’re still making them, too!  And if you count those created on platforms such as Kik and Telegram, add thousands more to that figure.

The function of one chatbot is pretty much like that of any other — after receiving input from a user, it gives information to that user via a text message.  The aim of a chatbot, though, can vary widely.  Some provide beauty tips, some allow you to order food, and still others satirize political candidates.

How do you make your chatbot stand out from the rest?

Chatbots are mostly the same behind the scenes, as well.  They all do the same thing.  A chatbot accepts input, then provides information based on that input.  Thus a user’s experience in one chatbot is pretty much a duplicate of another.

So what makes a bot special?  Or more importantly, how does a developer create a chatbot that’s distinctively different than another?

An abundance of bots

This question is becoming increasingly important as more and more bots vie for users’ attention.  Forty thousand chatbots is a huge market to try and get a share of.  And that’s just a drop in the proverbial bucket, compared to the deluge coming.  The exact number can’t be divined, of course, but take a look at how they’ve taken off:  Since the number of chatbots has grown by roughly 20,000 in the last five months alone, it’s a safe bet that the number of chatbots will soon outstrip the number of apps available.

Ever heard that “There’s an app for that!”?  Pretty soon we’ll all be saying “There’s a chatbot for that!”

Chatbots scale very well

Say it’s Saturday night.  You open Facebook Messenger and visit the Uber bot.  You use it to order a ride for yourself and two friends.  You go to a restaurant and get the seat you reserved while you were on Messenger.  It’s exactly what you wanted — non-smoking, near the door, a table for three.  After you eat, one of your friends tells you about Louis Vuitton’s new fall fashions.  You open another chat, connect to Messenger again, and look up the company chatbot.  You start by looking at shoes, but on impulse you buy a new jacket instead.

This scenario is not at all far-fetched.  And you never have to leave Facebook Messenger to get it.  By now, messaging platforms are practically ubiquitous, so any brand can have one-on-one, personalized interactions with their customers.  And this can happen on an enormous scale.

Yet for this to happen — much less for it to happen well — there needs to be a richer experience for the customer.  Right now chatbots are menu-based.  And even though they provide a conversational interface, the actual exchange is anything but.  This circles back to the design of chatbots, their basic functioning.  Generally speaking, answers are scripted.  A user can’t type their own free-form input.  Instead they look at several structured answers, and choose one of those from within the chat message.

When you narrow the bandwidth, you focus the message

This leads to a certain sameness in the user’s experience, when moving brand-to-brand.  A lot of this is because of the medium.  By itself, text doesn’t offer much differentiation.  Take a chat from Telegram and it looks a lot like a chat in Facebook Messenger.  This is a real challenge for a brand that wants to make itself rise above the others by creating a unique experience for consumers.

Authentic conversations are the missing piece

But consider for a moment that the problem might not lie in the interface, but rather with the brands themselves.

The basic flaw in the chatbots available right now isn’t the fact that they’re not providing flashy interactions, or even that they lack the visual design possible with a regular web page.  Rather, brands are wasting the chance to engage their customers with one-on-one, personalized interactions.  Instead they offer tired interactions that are about as memorable as reaching out to your bank.  In other words, today’s chatbot interaction may as well be a menu-based, touch-tone call.

John Schwartz, Washington Post writer for science and technology, once said “That’s part of the reason that filmmakers like Woody Allen or Steven Spielberg shoot movies in black and white. When you narrow the bandwidth, you focus the message.”  Because chatbots lack the standard neat interactions and good-looking visuals, they force a brand into examining the thing that truly matters to an audience:  The conversation with the users.  More specifically, the content of those conversations.

Just selling things to consumers is so 1990s.  A brand needs to invest in the relationships it has with its customers.  A brand has to create affinity with themselves and their customers.  A consumer will be much more likely to buy from a brand they already have a relationship with.  And brand affinity is built the same way it is built with other humans:  Through personal interactions, through conversations.

And that’s the prime ingredient:  Conversation.  True conversation, as opposed to scripted, menu-driven “chats.”  And conversational content is crucial if a chatbot is to be effective.  Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google understand this.  They have hired multitudes of writers, including comics and novelists.  These people are helping to develop company chatbots so that each one has a unique voice, an individual personality.  These things are what make chatbots compelling; only by using voice and personality can they be good brand ambassadors.

It works both ways, too, which is a good thing for brands that lack a personality or a voice.  It is a chatbot’s duty to convey the personality of a brand, yet due to the hard work of the creative people that write their scripts, they may put more personality into the brand than might have been there in the first place.

Chatbots represent the next boundary in brand marketing and consumer engagement.  They give brands an exquisite opportunity to forge durable bonds with their customers.  But the first step is crafting an experience that is genuinely compelling.  Up until now, users have been willing to overlook the basic flaw of chatbots; they’ve been putting up with the boring interactions.  Now, though, it is time for chatbots to evolve.

8 Truly Helpful Chatbots

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There’s a lot of hype around artificial intelligence today.  And chatbots are one of the primary ways the consumer is made aware of AI.

Chatbots are surprisingly easy to create.  And the deluge shows no signs of slowing down, thanks to the hype, the ease of creation, accelerating investments, and the rush of developers.  Over 225,000 bot developers have created more than 300,000 bots, reports Pandorabots, a leading chatbot development platform.

In this case, though, there is lots of supply and not so much demand.  The rush of supply seems largely due to the “cool factor” of bots, and is not driven by anyone asking their favorite brands to start using chatbots.

Chatbots do well when focused on one task

Dr. BJ Fogg is the founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.  When looking at his model of behavior, we see that in order for any shift to be made in consumer behavior, any given chatbot needs to be easier to use than the method being replaced.

Unfortunately, they’re not there yet.  Chatbots are still clunky.  As of this writing, it’s still easier to call, text or email the company in question.

At this point chatbots seem to do well when they focus on making a single task easier.  There are a few that realize the promise of AI, and that are able have more reasonable conversations by using context.  At this point, though, many users will still have only bare-bones conversations with most bots.

The sheer number of bots out there presents users with a problem:  How is anyone going to know which ones are truly helpful?  Sure, some bots may well assist a company’s cost-cutting measures.  Still, there is a lot of work needed before any customer gets a measurably better experience.

Right now there are a very few chatbots that provide some real utility and actual value.  They provide an inkling of what an interaction with an actually intelligent bot might be.  You might notice a theme among the bots picked:  They’re more realistic when the user wants to ask one of a group of prearranged questions.  They’re at their best when the tasks they handle are specific and clearly defined.

So here’s a list of the eight most useful chatbots out there today, in no particular order:

1.  Howdy’s function is to help you run your meetings in Slack.  Its founder, Ben Brown, created it with an eye to customization, so that everyone can use its talents of digital assistance and automation.  Howdy will reach out to participants and ask them a group of questions to prepare for the meeting.  It automates information collection and distribution.  It makes meetings shorter by leveraging a shortcoming of human nature — Howdy can talk to many people at once, whereas humans can’t.  These answers are then delivered to the meeting leader, and all participants, if the leader chooses to do so.  It sure beats copying and pasting the same questions over and over again.

2.  HealthTap was launched on Messenger not too long ago.  It aims to make good healthcare easier to reach by more people.  Not only does it allow a user to get a referral from real doctors, but it also assesses results of tests.  All that, and you can ask it health questions as well.  If other users have asked similar things, then it will show you those results.  Of course, health information can be highly personal, so HealthTap is ideal for those people that have no inhibitions.  The company does state that all questions and identity information is kept confidential and anonymous, but the fact that the company may associate a personal Facebook account with certain medical conditions may be a turn-off for some that prefer to keep a tight lid on their health information.

3.  Sephora chatbot on Kik.  Although it currently exists only on the Kik chat platform, the Sephora chatbot makes it easy for consumers everywhere not only to shop for products, but to get beauty tips as well.  Acting like the best in-store assistant, it provides three prime attributes of great customer service:  It responds right away, it’s highly educated, and it’s always available.  If you’re a member of Kik, it’s like having access to a Sephora team member in your back pocket.

4.  X.ai provides Amy, a personal assistant with one function:  Amy takes on the task of scheduling meetings, so that you can focus on more important tasks.  X.ai has been so successful with Amy because she does only one thing.  But that one thing she does extremely well.  She’ll schedule meetings without effort, but won’t take notes or solve any other problems for you.  Dennis Mortensen, X.ai’s founder has made a huge bet on the thoughts that bots are terrific for any very small task.  Due to this laser focus, the bot needs to be just about perfect.  Amy is their first attempt, and she makes scheduling conversational and easy.

5.  Assist integrates with several on-demand services such as Uber, GrubHub, OpenTable and Lyft.  A user can communicate with Assist through Facebook message, a text or by using Assist itself.  They can then get a ride, book hotels, or order take-out.  Assist uses input from users to improve itself with every question.

6.  Ozlo is a more personal AI.  At this time available only for iOS, he helps the user find information on their phone both easier and faster.  As with other bots, engage Ozlo in a dialogue text conversation, and it will give you answers on Google Now-like cards.  Deeper links are also provided to the websites and apps where it found the information.  The bot is partnered with other websites and apps such as Foursquare, Yelp, OpenTable and Zagat so he can provide great recommendations.  Right now Ozlo is being trained to help people find drinks, eats and entertainment — things that we all do daily. You can get more information about Ozlo from Charles Jolley, one of its chief designers.

7.  Pana blends AI with real humans to create an always-on travel agent.  Planning a trip is made easier, simpler, more personalized and cheaper with Pana’s skills.  Pana can also be your personal concierge, providing vetted choices for places to go and food to eat.  Since booking travel these days is mostly a matter of searching the same criteria on many sites, Pana makes booking easier and less time consuming.

8.  Birdly is a chatbot that acts as a bridge between Slack and Salesforce, making business-related data accessible to entire teams.  Directly on Slack, one thing Birdly can do is manage expenses.  This makes things more efficient, as it recognizes data input from invoices or receipts, allowing users to spend less time on expense reports.  Birdly also provides analytics, efficient alerting and customer information in one place.

Converting Addiction into Productivity

by John Onorato

 

Have you heard the term “nomophobia?”  Perhaps, perhaps not.  This is an actual thing, though:  Nomophobia refers to the fear of being out of mobile contact, due to a user having no network coverage, losing their phone, running out of battery life or not having credit.

The word itself is an abbreviation of sorts, standing for No Mobile phone phobia.  It makes the language geek in me cringe, as it should properly mean “an irrational fear of the law.”  (Nomos, in Greek, means “law.”)  Still, there’s no accounting for taste, or Internet pundits, for that matter.

And apparently this is a big problem, as well.  47% of 2,163 women assayed have this fear, and 58% of men have it too.  The level of fear participants  experienced compared to those experienced on wedding day, trips to the dentist, and so on.

Of course, in many cases, this may not be an actual fear — or phobia — but may be simply a more typical anxiety.  Yet still, this points to dual growing trends in Western culture — those of mobile phone overuse and Internet addiction disorder.

So the question is — is this a real problem?  And if it is, should we address it?  How?

To be sure, mobile productivity applications and cloud-enabled networks, along with Unified Communications technologies and others enable workers to “make better use of their time.”  They can email while standing in line at the grocery store; they can work on a presentation while waiting for their car to be serviced; any idle bit of time can be transformed into a moment of productivity.

The downside to this, though, is that it’s disconnecting humans from one another, and pulling our focus into devices, a million miles away from the people standing right next to us.  We’re increasingly addicted to our tech, many enterprises having workers that are spending every free moment tweeting, emailing, and chatting, with the line demarcating work-related tasks and personal ones growing more blurry all the time.

Mobile devices are great ways to give us things to do.  Many times those things are even quite useful.  Too often, though, these devices take priority over the other people in the room with their users.  This is enough of a problem in a social setting; in a business setting, it can be disruptive and even insubordinate.

So again — how do we deal with this easy-to-distract workforce?

The first thing that needs to be done is basic parameters need to be laid down.  Like what parents do with children, ground rules for good screen time habits need to be set.  Firm corporate expectations need to be established.  Let your employees know, for example, that it’s your priority that your company be seen as on-task during meetings.  In other words, no phone use during meetings, especially when clients are present.  Of course there are extenuating circumstances; information needs to be looked up, and so on.  Phones are indeed useful tools.  But when that situation is dealt with, put the phone away.  And for heaven’s sake, no personal use.

Simply put, boundaries need to be set.

Another possible strategy might be to try convert disruptive habits to a more collaborative and productive effort.  Take, for example, business VoIP applications.  Most of them offer cost-effective ways of maintaining constant communications, and even collaboration between departments.  There’s video conferencing, SMS, IM, and the various features of UC as well.  So if, by their own choice, your employees are going to be cyborgs anyway, you might as well leverage that to your advantage.

For instance, do you have an employee that’s overloaded with work?  Try shifting some of that over to one of your more smartphone-addicted workers, and you’ll have a shot at remediating two problems at the same time.

And of course, there’s always the last step:  Bringing in an outside expert to talk about device etiquette in the digital age.  They can also deliver talks on how to deal with addictions to their devices, and actually get more done … instead of simply checking their phones 110 times a day.

published link:  http://www.zyxaw.com/2015/03/how-to-convert-mobile-addiction-anxiety-nomophobia-in-productivity-uc.html