Communication is Moving To The Web
For the past several decades, telephony has been service-based. Telephone companies provided a service to subscribers with a monthly subscription, creating a stable user base and relatively fixed revenue. This fundamental business model worked for wireline, and didn’t change much in the early days of wireless.
But with the emergence of smartphones, calling moved from a service to an app. App users are transient: I can use Vonage to make calls over Wi-fi today, make a Skype call tomorrow, and use the AT&T calling app on my iPhone on Tuesday. Because of the proliferation of apps around calling and messaging—from Skype to Viber to Vonage to AT&T—voice revenue stalled.
Now a second revolution is sweeping the industry: Communication is moving to the web. Any device can be enabled for real time communication – voice, video, and data sharing. These features can be enabled as a feature on any web or mobile application. The communication can also be peer to peer, bypassing telephone networks.
To call a friend on Halo, your users won’t need to pick up the phone; they’ll simply be able to use Halo’s own in-app calling feature.
This means that phone numbers are increasingly irrelevant. Because voice calling is a feature on apps, you don’t need to remember a phone number. You simply hit a button to connect with your business partner or your friends. As apps identify the people in your networks by name, phone numbers are increasingly redundant.
The challenges for the industry are clear. If I’m browsing a website for clothes and want to talk to a sales agent, I can simply click the call button. Seconds later, we’re both sharing the same screen. How do telecom companies monetize this? Does the customer or the store pay for the call? Did the call use your voice network? As networks diversify, bringing in revenue from yours becomes tougher.
This is the same challenge that content companies faced with the advent of HTML. HTML flattened the ecosystem by allowing anyone to set up a website, post a blog, and sell goods and services. Companies too reliant on the old ways of doing business collapsed. But in hindsight, there was plenty of money to be had.
What HTML did to the content, WebRTC will do to telephony. Companies that stick with their traditional models are going to suffer. But for companies that embrace the changes and lead the charge, new revenue streams await.
What is WebRTC?
WebRTC is a set of standards from WC3 that will enable real-time communication (RTC) on the web between browsers. Chrome, Firefox, and Opera browsers natively support it. Using WebRTC, you can make peer-to-peer calls, video chats, share screens, and exchange files.
Interestingly, WebRTC does not specify any methods for signaling. This is a smart decision, because it means that all of the call initiation, management, teardown, authentication, and accounting can be implemented using any method.
Plenty of technologies exist for controlling and managing communications, and all of these can be integrated with WebRTC. For service providers, who have plenty of experience in this domain, this is an exciting opportunity. By integrating WebRTC into their existing telecom infrastructure, they combine the best of both worlds. The latest web technology, combined with reliable telecom infrastructure, is giving birth to extraordinary applications. By refusing to mandate a method for signaling, WebRTC makes itself diverse and fluid for the future.
Because of its versatility, WebRTC has dozens of use cases, from browser-to-browser communication to enterprise ‘click-to-call’ features. The most obvious are the apps built for browsers and to communicate between browsers. A natural extension is to embed the browser into mobile apps. For enterprises, WebRTC offers cost savings and easier maintenance of complex call center and conferencing apps.
As enterprises switch to WebRTC, telecom services providers and platform providers are in danger of seeing their value erode. But this market disruption also offers providers extraordinary revenue opportunities.
Integration to Telecom Networks
PBX equipment and hosted services will have to support WebRTC. Similarly, telecom networks will have to open their PSTN networks to enable WebRTC developers to access them easily. Calling apps and features are only going to proliferate, and providers that embrace this trend will see new revenues. If operators enable developers tools and SDK to build their own PTSN-calling app, they stand to gain; if they refuse, developers will simply take their business elsewhere.
In the same vein, providers must move to supporting video calling apps. The demand for video calling continues to rise, and providers that get behind this trend and empower developers to make video-calling features and apps will benefit.
The industry specific applications for WebRTC are an exciting new field. Imagine combining real-time communications with contextual data and screen sharing. There’s potential for a lot of innovate apps in this sphere, and providers can either fight a losing battle against developers or embrace the new changes.
WebRTC is going to be a repeat of the smartphone app phenomenon. As the ecosystem flattens, every user can become a creator. Thousands of developers will build millions of innovative communication apps that we couldn’t imagine 5 years ago. And just like in the app marketplace, there’s plenty of money to be made for companies that get on board.
Companies need to look at how their current services intersect with WebRTC and OTT (over-the-top) applications. Both erode the space traditionally held by telephony providers, the more so as OTT applications adopt WebRTC.
But in the intersections between the three, you see three sets of opportunities.
First, companies that open up their network to be a gateway for WebRTC apps will see new revenue opportunities. They can incorporate “platform as a service” as a profitable element of their business.
Companies can use existing SIP gateways and session border controllers to set up their platform and offer it as a service.
Second, companies can develop their own OTT audio/video apps to compete in this marketplace. This requires significant resources; and partnering with app developers to build them; but diversification can be the key to success.
Third, companies can develop toolkits and APIs to enable developers to build OTT apps using WebRTC.
Ultimately, companies need to move from being device-centric to being access-centric. Rather than let customers access your service only from a device that you provide, you should diversify and give users more opportunities—on smartphones, on tablets, on laptops, on apps—to access your service.
Offering “platform as a service” is an easy extension to your existing services. You should offer enterprise customers the opportunity to access your SIP in order to develop WebRTC apps.
Also consider diversifying into softphones—software for making telephone calls over the Internet—for roaming and other apps. Your customers will still need to roam and make calls, making this a valuable source of potential revenue.
Finally, consider opening a Developer Program with toolkits and APSs for access to your network. Make it as easy as possible for customers to built WebRTC apps. Become developer friendly.
WebRTC is as revolutionary a market disruption for telecom as HTML was for the internet. It will flatten the ecosystem and empower anyone to become a WebRTC developer.
Companies that try to hold onto the old way of doing things will see their value erode. But for companies willing to embrace this new technology, business opportunities abound.
As a telephony provider, how else will WebRTC impact you?