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The 5 WebRTC Business Benefits for Telcos?

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.

5 Business Benefits for Telcos from WebRTCTo structure the answer, I would like to distinguish between the following 5 business options:

  • 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.

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Another View on WebRTC Data Channel – Interview with StreamRoot

Nikolay RodionovContinuing the WebRTC Data Channel series of interviews I took the opportunity to get Nikolay Robionov’s, Co-Founder of StreamRoot, point of view.

Can you tell us what your company is all about and what makes it stick out of the crowd of WebRTC start-ups?

Nikolay Rodionov:

StreamRoot is a peer-to-peer video delivery solution that helps online broadcasters to cut their bandwidth costs by up to 90%, while improving the quality of streaming. Our solution also solves the scaling issues most of the big streaming platforms still struggle with, as its efficiency increases with the number of simultaneous users.

Unlike other WebRTC DataChannel startups, our company is focused on video streaming, because video is very data consuming (it will represent 70% of total web traffic in 2017!), and because video providers have very specific needs. We work together with our clients to give them a solution that integrates almost instantly in their workflow, and provides a completely seamless experience for the end-user.

We are always on the edge of the technology, and succeeded to have the first commercial P2P player for Live Streaming on the market, and the support of adaptive bitrate technologies as MPEG-DASH. We want to become the reference in P2P video streaming by leveraging WebRTC, and we already are acknowledged as such by the the biggest players in the industry.

StreamRoot-Solution-Diagram

The data channel is one of the more interesting capabilities of WebRTC with boundless innovation opportunities. How are you innovating with it?

Nikolay Rodionov:

We saw data channels as a huge opportunity to deeply transform how the web is working today. Datachannels enables to create client-to-client transfers of any type of data without anything to install on top of the browsers, so we decided to use it to create a distributed video delivery solution. Data channels enable us to not struggle too much with the very low-level transfer issues, so we can concentrate on build a complex peer-to-peer protocol optimized for video streaming.

While there are many start-ups dealing with WebRTC not many of them are looking at the data channel. Do you think there is any special reason for that?

Nikolay Rodionov:

WebRTC was created by people and companies coming from the Telcos, so their number one focus was the Visio-conference usecase. They see WebRTC as an evolution of their existing protocols and softwares ported into the browsers, so they are not very interested in Datachannels. But WebRTC Datachannels has given developers a completely new possibilities to interact on the web, and we think the biggest innovations will come from this area as WebRTC will become more mainstream.

Lately there has been a lot of buzz around net neutrality and the FCC actions in this regards. In addition to that there are announcements about Netflix relationship with Comcast and Verizon, while on the other hand there are rumors about Netflix looking at P2P technology to save on bandwidth and cost. Can your company provide remedy to this issue and does Net Neutrality impact your solution?

Nikolay Rodionov:

Yes StreamRoot is a very good solution for this problem, as our system is relieving the congestions in the interconnection points between big video plaforms and ISPs. The end-users doesn’t need to fetch the data from the Netflix servers anymore, but can get it from the nearest peer, who can be his neighbor. And our solution benefits not only the video platform, but also the ISPs, because we optimize our peer network so the data travels less and stays in the same ISP network if possible.

If the FCC new propositions pass, bandwidth will become even more expensive, and the demand for a solution like ours will grow even more. I don’t think ISPs will be able to block all the WebRTC communications, so they will not be able to block peer-to-peer delivery, and that could be the solution for a lot of video websites who wouldn’t have the money to pay millions for a fast lane.

Are there any customers already using it? Can you name a few?

Nikolay Rodionov:

We did some great publicly demonstrated pilots with France Televisions in December and Level3 at the NAB show last month. We have several pilots running with big Live Streaming providers (main French TV Channels, as well as OTT services like PlayTV), and are in a pre-production phase with some large VOD platforms.

What’s next for your company?

Nikolay Rodionov:

Our next biggest focus is to expand internationally, and get even more clients and use cases to prove to the broadcasting world that this technology is ready for production.

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Exploiting WebRTC Data Channel Potential: Interview with Viblast

Petar BojkovFollowing my previous post about companies using the WebRTC data channel I started doing some in-depth interviews with a few of them. This is the first interview done with Petar Bojkov, COO of Viblast.

Can you tell us what your company is all about and what makes it stick out of the crowd of WebRTC start-ups?

Petar Bojkov:

Viblast is providing scalable video streaming solutions. Our software platform addresses the unique challenges of broadcasters and over-the-top (OTT) video content providers to reliably deliver high quality video to an ever-growing number of broadband viewers worldwide. Viblast’s groundbreaking functionality relies on the principle of a peer-assisted Content Delivery Network (CDN), where content is delivered to end-viewers using a traditional CDN model improved by the addition of a peer-to-peer (P2P) layer between users.

Our solution uses WebRTC’s data channel to exchange video/audio data chunks between users. While the prevalent uses of WebRTC we’ve seen so far have been centered around making video calls, Viblast tackles a larger scale problem which is poised to grow in parallel with the exponential demand for video streaming.

Viblast-Solutionn-Diagram

The data channel is one of the more interesting capabilities of WebRTC with boundless innovation opportunities. How are you innovating with it?

Petar Bojkov:

Theoretically, the data channel has unlimited potential. However, current implementations usually assume that the data channel will be used for small amounts of data. As Viblast is one of the few companies using the data channel to transfer more than simple text messages between users, we were one of the first developers that tried to pass big chunks of data between peers.

Of course, being off the beaten track is very interesting and challenging. We had to solve some unique challenges, the answers to which cannot be found with a simple web search. We also had to implement various workarounds such as limiting the amount of data we are sending in one message.

While there are many start-ups dealing with WebRTC not many of them are looking at the data channel. Do you think there is any special reason for that?

Petar Bojkov:

The core idea behind WebRTC is to provide a real time communications stack for the web and as such, most startups tend to focus on this space, building one video calling app after another. Since video calling does not require a data channel to work, it gets largely ignored. Such a pity, since there are many interesting use cases of the data channel that would solve real world problems.

An example would be Viblast as a peer augmented CDN using the data channel for peers to communicate, another interesting use is direct file sharing between browsers and yet another one would be a distributed web without servers. The list goes on and I expect that once the initial hype with video calling starts to fade, we will see more and more of these use cases taking advantage of WebRTC’s data channel.

Lately there has been a lot of buzz around net neutrality and the FCC actions in this regards. In addition to that there are announcements about Netflix relationship with Comcast and Verizon, while on the other hand there are rumors about Netflix looking at P2P technology to save on bandwidth and cost. Can your company provide remedy to this issue and does Net Neutrality impact your solution?

Petar Bojkov:

The recent Netflix – Comcast deal and the surrounding net neutrality debate is an interesting issue when considered in the context of Viblast as Viblast’s technology has a potential impact on both. As it currently stands, Netflix streams directly to their subscribers, each subscriber consuming gigabytes upon gigabytes of data, which are delivered by Netflix’s own infrastructure and Amazon Web Services. With the planned move to Ultra HD (4K), these numbers are set to grow in the coming years. Streaming to millions of users is an expensive proposition and the recent Netflix – Comcast peering agreement only compounds the total cost for Netflix.

Are there any customers already using it? Can you name a few?

Petar Bojkov:

Although a young company offering an innovative and yet market unproven solution, interest for our product has been strong and the company is making strides. Viblast is running pilots for a few TV stations, including a national TV channel and a couple of OTT video providers.

What’s next for your company?

Petar Bojkov:

Obtaining a patent for our technology, opening an office in North America and aggressively expanding our customer base once Viblast’s technology becomes more mainstream.

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