TechCrunch broke the news on what I'm going to name, "ALEXA CALLING" a new feature from Amazon for the Echo line of digital assistants. Now a few hours later the service is up and running.
Clearly, it's a first generation service, and in many ways it's nothing new, just Novel. Right now the service is a way to call and text other Echo users and make outbound calls to others in your address book. A call to a long time VoIP industry executive yielded at best a G.711 quality call in the era of HD-Audio. Our collective guess is that will improve. The audio was scratchy, and reminded me of a cell phone call from the 80's and a VoIP call from the 90's circa Free World Dialup and Net2Phone days.
Next I had him call me back from his Alexa app and I answered the call on one of my two Echo DOT's. Interestingly, the call rang all four of my Echo devices so SIM ring is part of the service, but while I can move my Spotify audio between them, I couldn't pull the call to the iPhone Amazon app the way I can transfer/handover a call using the Dialpad app and service. Our collective guess work came to the conclusion that Amazon is not really doing any IP signaling but instead simply piping audio to the "apps" either on the Echo or to the app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device. This means that things like call control are not yet live, but likely will come in a future release.
The other feature in the service is a messaging platform ala SMS. Call this AMS or Alexa Messaging Service. It's unclear if the messages are encrypted or not, or even if the voice traffic is. My guess is that they are not (yet) but will likely be offered by a third party or Amazon themselves. As with the direct calling between users, both parties need to either have an Echo enabled to place and receive calls, or the Alexa app needs to be installed and enabled.
Alexa Calling also is capable of outbound calling. The way that works is the app on your mobile device uploads your address book and then you have that in the cloud. You can then ask Alexa to call or send a message to someone in the address book. As a long time user of Webley since the late 90s I found the audio detection system's accuracy to be about as good as the mother of all IVR systems. Here again, the audio codecs being used are not the highest of quality, but it's likely they too will be added.
To me, there's a lot of promise here, but Alexa Calling is a far cry from being a replacement today for my mobile phone or VoIP service providers based solely on the current set of functions and capabilities today. But as my colleague and I discussed, there's a lot of promise and potential here, especially for conference calling. All Amazon needs to do for that is boost the audio quality to real HD audio ala OPUS, add in real signaling, some synchronization, and call recording and you'd have an awesome audio conferencing platform and soon, a great video one.
That said, Dialpad is due to release Alexa enabled calling, but the first iteration will be a call set up routine, not full two way voice calling. Knowing that makes me think this is really is an example of what can be done. Think of it as a proof of concept gone live. It's been done most recently by RingbyName and before that by Telzio. And what I foresee is Amazon creating a platform that all VoIP and Conferencing service providers can ride on using AWS and their global reach. By providing the hooks into a network, Amazon becomes a telco backbone. The infrastructure is there, and its clear Amazon is up to something in that area....
My only question is, can call Amazon Customer Service this way?