WebRTC is a technology primarily driven by pure Web players so the question of how Telcos can and should take it into account does not have an immediate answer. Telcos themselves are likely going to have different approaches to this question depending on their backgrounds, assets and strategies. The technology is now reaching a development stage where I believe it becomes necessary to share visions on that matter and the upcoming conference is going to be a great opportunity to discuss where could be the value of WebRTC for Telcos.
- Add Web access to legacy Telco communication services
- Offer Telephony interfaces to Web service providers
- Add audio/video communications to Web-based Telco services
- Innovate in communication services
- Offer a development & deployment platform to Web service providers
Add Web access to legacy Telco communication services
This is probably the by-default attitude for a Telco and the first option on the list. Some legacy Telco services quite clearly need to be useable from Web browsers because it extends their reach, accessibility and ergonomics. One can think of A/V conferencing, Contact Centres and to some extent Unified Communication and Collaboration (UCC). Here, because WebRTC is technologically quite different from Managed VoIP, the interworking costs tend to limit the business cases. From another angle, the penetration of Web technologies has the potential to go beyond simply adding Web gateways to legacy infrastructures. One can think of supporting “Web” codecs and switching technologies in conference bridges or supporting a better web context integration in contact centers and UCC systems. The ecosystem has already very well understood those options and going along this path can be seen from a guy like me (I work in the labs) as business as usual. It’s worth noting that currently the value and economics of adding Web access to legacy Telephony services is still less obvious and need to be compared with a voip-app approach.
Offer Telephony interfaces to Web service providers
This business option has the merit of looking for new revenue streams. However it may be its only merit as strong pure-players (positioned as “service-nodes” and requiring specific phone numbers) already occupy this field and as large Web service providers could decide to connect through the legacy Telephony interfaces. Here, the sweet spot would materialize in the form of APIs for interacting with calls to/from regular phone numbers. Under the hood, what’s needed is quite complex (= likely expensive) and it collides with the ongoing transformation from circuit-switched to all-ip (IMS) technologies while the value of the addressable market seems limited and maybe even shrinking given that a portion of Telephony is likely to move to Apps or toward the Web.
Add audio/video/chat communications to Web-based Telco services
This typically concerns services such as Telco’s own CRM and WebMail. Here the key issue is customer relevance! I believe this does not involve transformation plans (beyond having the driving business units aware of the latest technological developments in the Web and the new opportunities offered): it’s business as usual.
Innovate in communication services
In many ways this approach is similar in intention to the Telco-OTT approach whether it’s done in-house or through partnerships. I would even not distinguish the two except that using Web technologies opens-up some more options (such as shown in Libon) and except that the multitude of companies able to participate to the Darwinian selection of the fittest is just growing bigger with WebRTC lowering even more the barrier to entry.
Offer a Telco platform to Web service providers
This business option recognizes that Web technologies reveal their potential when used in a full-Web context. It also acknowledges that those Web applications will be mainly coming from a variety of players from the Digital economy.
Put this way, it’s not an original approach in the industry: there are already a number of emerging development & deployment WebRTC API platform providers for the real-time web and while at least one well-known Telco did this bet (through an acquisition), one could wonder if this is a relevant market for a Telco or put in another way, how much relevant are the synergies between a platform provider for web communications and a Telco (datacenters; network footprint; enterprise accounts; … compared e.g. to platforms providers leveraging on Amazon Web Services and starting with an empty enterprise account portfolio). While the synergies may indeed be sufficient for some Telcos to take that business option I believe there is some potential for Telcos to find better sweet spots
First of all, the ultimate sweet spot for a Telco datacentre is at the Edge of the network facing end-users. Here there is a need to better understand the business opportunities brought by WebRTC and web real-time communications deployed at the Edge of the network. The field of applications would be significantly different than the usual inter-personal communications and should be searched within extremely latency and QoS demanding applications. For instance, some augmented reality and thing-to-thing use-cases may match these criteria.
Secondly, the Identity management framework used in Web communications has serious drawbacks when it comes to end-user privacy. While the largest identity providers in the web have business models based on tracking user activities for selling targeted ads, network operators have business models that would allow them to offer privacy guarantees to their end-users. Moreover, Telcos are in good position to offer strong authentication (leveraging on the SIM card) when it makes sense.
Finally, even if Internet-based communication may be sufficient for a variety of needs there are some demanding Web applications (typically when the Web communication has some business value) that could benefit from specialized network services. While WebRTC wasn’t designed with that in mind, realistic technical solutions could be designed to answer that.
The upcoming conference presentations will certainly be the opportunity to discuss in more depth some of these options and I expect that feedbacks from the conference participants could provide some useful inputs for next steps.