Having been one of the original selling points of 3G over 10 years ago, the technology and services are (at last) aligned to enable video calling to burst into life. With HSPA becoming the predominant 3G bearer, video calling is now a reality given the stability and strong performance of this much-evolved 3G technology.
However, the credibility of video calling was damaged by an early attempt at the offering with W-CDMA, cumbersome handsets and questionable video software, and consumers will need to be reassured that each of the components now work appropriately.
Apple, with the release of FaceTime, has provided a much-needed boost to the idea of mobile video calling and will become a key driver to the uptake. While Skype has lagged behind in providing a mobile element to its video calling applications, engineers are reported to be hard at work developing a package to support mobile in 2011.
The market research firm Northstream forecasts that the number of video call-enabled Apple devices alone will exceed 100 million over the next 12 months, while software developers such as fring and Tango are already offering video-calling apps for a range of smartphones.
Likely outcome: Consumers with little appreciation of the history of 3G video calls will drive the uptake. New iPhones and iPads supporting improved or new camera functionality will act as the catalyst, with other handset and tablet vendors quickly adapting their product strategies to follow suit.
Tablets are seen as being key to the uptake of video calling and the service will play a major role in the marketing of second-generation tablets.
While Apple's FaceTime video calling software only works with Apple products today, the company insists the specification will be opened up to third parties--a move that likely will help fire the mobile video calling bandwagon.
Northstream predicts that Apple and its peers are about to achieve in one year what 3G operators have failed to do in 10.
Finally: An indication of the potential of mobile video calling comes from the 100 million minutes users consumed during 2010 using a platform developed by fring, a pioneer of video calling technology.