WebRTC is an open source API definition being worked on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to enable browser-to-browser for Real-Time Communications (the RTC) applications for voice calling, video chat and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing without plugins. It has only been around since May 2011 when Google decided to open things up, but already it has donned the mantle of being potentially the most disruptive/transformative technology in communications to come down the pipe in years.
In fact, it would not be an understatement to say this is a white hot subject of discussion in all sectors of the communications industry. This train is moving fast and picking up speed and along with attending TMC’s (News - Alert) WebRTCIII Conference & Expo Nov. 19-21 in Santa Clara, Calif., and staying current on industry developments on our dedicated site, you should also bookmark the WebRTC project home www.WebRTC.org.
Aside from the news about the fast pace of WebRTC developments, one of the more fascinating aspects of industry discussion and vigorous debate is who is going to be the beneficiary of WebRTC?
An obvious answer is all of us as end users. The embedding of RTC in browsers will bring a level of convenience and connectivity heretofore more promise than reality. A less obvious answer, especially given Over-the-Top (OTT) providers belief that WebRTC is their manifest destiny and path to profits, is that traditional fixed line and especially mobile service providers do not have to become the disrupted but rather have an opportunity to profitably growth with WebRTC.
The caveat is they are going to have to work fast and adroitly or be left behind. The consequences of the latter could be catastrophic, and that is more an inevitability than a prediction.
Why WebRTC benefits the service provider
For the naysayers in the crowd who doubt that the network service providers can be major WebRTC players consider the following benefits to the operator willing to appreciate the opportunity and act.
Consumer Mass Market. The service providers can actually leverage WebRTC to increase revenues and extend their brand relevancy beyond phones to the Web. This is done by improving calls, for example, using your tablet/laptop as an extension of your mobile or home phone. It means that it is the service provider who can provide high quality and not “best effort” user experiences via Voice over LTE (News - Alert) (VoLTE) or video. The keys to success, in doing this are:
- Enabling multi-screen for communications
- Creating additional use-cases that prompt more devices to attach to the shared data plan
- Selling more data through video-consumption
- Enabling multi-access across wireless, Wi-Fi, and FTTx
The service providers own an absolutely critical asset, e.g., the billing relationship with the end customer. It is in devising customized data plans so that quality WebRTC is a value-added benefit where real leverage can be asserted.
Large Enterprise Market. Yes, you are reading the sub heading correctly. The trick/opportunity is to reset large enterprises’ decision criteria, shifting them away from proprietary premise-equipment systems and towards the network. How can this be done?
- Make the business case, already be pushed by a variety of managed services providers that there are quantifiable and sizeable cost-savings that arise from network-centric RTC in the form of SIP trunking, common session control, open application support.
- The above also is a component of eliminating costly desk-phone management, as the personal device becomes the dominant RTC one and the phone becomes much less important over time to the point of potential extinction in the distant future.
- Taking advantage of IMS APIs and WebRTC to improve workforce productivity.
I have not referenced the biggest losers in the looming WebRTC transformation, but service providers can, should (and if they play their cards right) take share from premise equipment vendors. Not only does WebRTC, being Web-centric, bring down proprietary communications silos by providing universal connectivity, but it also gives the service providers the ability to provide a host of value-added applications for providing enhanced RTC management and improved analytics.
Advanced Communications (News - Alert) Market. The term next generation does not do adequate justice to what is at work here. As the 4G LTE deployments continue to accelerate, this is going to create an explosion of interest in what are advanced services in VoLTE and WebRTC. The facts are that multi-channel interactions—interacting with customers the way they choose to interact with you which the smartphone and tablet adoption growth are driving—are going to move from being niceties to necessities for enterprises to sustain competitive advantage.
Linking VoLTE and WebRTC enables the service provider to increase and charge for the value of those apps and services. The service provider could simply interconnect those two communities, or they could enhance the experience across those markets, for example by helping a subscriber use one identity on both VoLTE and WebRTC.
The Need for Speed to Market. The realities are that in looking at the WebRTC landscape right now the service provides are going to need a cultural change. Like the OTT competitors who covet gaining the value-added high ground they must be fast-to-market and fast in the market. The good news is that WebRTC solves the client getting-started problem (time and cost). It lets apps developers focus on creating a great app, because the client changes from difficult to easy. The app’s new or improved client is instantly available, applied the next time the enterprise or consumer clicks it. This means the typical service provider lag time can be cut exponentially. It also means they can test easily and deploy massively just like competitors.
Create New Markets. A great example of this is in duplicating profitable business by supplying Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) with what they need to gain traction in the new market of WVNO (Web VNO). Enabling businesses as a wholesaler is a good thing. Service providers have a great value proposition (industrial scaling, inter-network connections, business practices). The fact is that there is no good reason why web providers such as Craig’s List, eBay or millions of sites built on WordPress, Druple or Joomla should recreate communications. The message here is to use your spare capacity and business value to sell WVNO services.
What the operator should do about WebRTC
With a major tip of the hat to my friends at Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) who have arguably the most comprehensive WebRTC solutions currently available, the following can be recommend as steps for service providers to get in the game:
- Accelerate IMS. It’s proven to work in fixed, mobile and cable. Use that base to open up your communications innovation. Because it’s software, you could even drop in an IMS App Node to purely deliver WebRTC and none of the base services.
- Start experimenting. Interesting things happen with app developers, they think about communications differently than most telecom people. For example, it’s a utility to use in a broader app. See the showcased ideas on http://developer-ims.alcatel-lucent.com/showcase/
- Educate your customer’s IT department. They can reduce ongoing costs (network connections, desktop device management) and improve employee productivity (link IT apps and comms into a single use-case, use anything as a phone).
If all of the above sounds like a call to action with some urgency it is. I will go out on a bit of a limb here and say that WebRTC is one of those rare instances where the hype is grounded in sound justification. We are on the on ramp to the bottom of the learning curve of just where, when, how (and how fast) the impacts will be of making our browsers our primary mode of all communications. What we do know is that this is going to be a very steep curve and because of what is at stake it is going to rise at speeds approaching or exceeding the adoption rate of social media.
In fact, the context for all of this is to remember that Facebook (News - Alert) was founded in 2004 and now has a billion users, the iPad and iPhone are much younger as is Android. We live in what I have called “The Age of Acceleration” where the only constants are change and the velocity at which it is increasing. If traditional services providers are going to turn what could be a major threat to their business into an opportunity of substantial proportions—as OTT competitors, applications enablers and fulcrum of ecosystems—the case to take advantage of WebRTC before it is too late is compelling. All this is going to take is a commitment to try something new that gives you precisely the right tools to do so and enjoy the ripple effects.
Edited by Alisen Downey