Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Apple, Microsoft and how operators can tap into the creative potential of WebRTC

Attempting to guess Apple’s next move has practically become an industry in itself – all you need is a patent filing or a loose-lipped Taiwanese factory mole. In fact, a simple firmware reference will do. But even the tech bloggers probably don’t need to rummage through much trash in Cupertino to figure out that Apple – faced by the constant need to keep their consumer communication devices up to date with network trends – is working on a voice strategy for all-IP LTE mobile broadband networks.

A job ad earlier this spring removed any doubt – the company that already brought us FaceTime is looking for telephony software engineers with “experience in SIP, real-time transport protocol and VoIP related protocols," as well as "familiarity with telecommunication network architectures".

And Apple is only part of the story. Microsoft, in turn, has recently been advertising for HTML5-savvy developers to bring Skype to browsers. So what does it all mean?

It’s probably too early to say for sure. But for the rest of us it’s clear that we’re going to be hearing a lot more about real-time communication on the web (WebRTC) in the coming years. Microsoft and Apple are just some of the players – albeit two of the potentially most high-profile – in a still-nascent sector that could have a huge impact on the way we use the internet.

When services such as Skype become part of the browser experience, the possibility of integrating communication with web pages suddenly opens up. I can read my favorite Apple rumor blog on my tablet, see which of my friends are doing the same thing at precisely the same time, and start up a proper voice conversation there and then.

I don’t need to download a native application, and I certainly don’t need to know anything about web development. But do I need an operator?

That depends on the kind of communication I’m looking for. WebRTC has the potential to enrich communication in areas as diverse as social networks, e-health or education. The chances are that at least one of these offerings will be valuable enough for me to pay an operator for it. This gives operators the chance to develop their own applications and – at long last – force their way into the app store revenue party.

On the other hand, perhaps I’ll just be happy to surf the wave of creativity that WebRTC will inevitably unleash, as I glide from one voice-enabled page to another without paying a cent to anybody. And operators shouldn’t expect any favors from the competition, which will probably do everything possible to cut them out of the picture.

So it’s up to the operators to show they mean business. If they get it right, WebRTC can be the basis for a range of offerings that people won’t be able to do without. And it might reduce the chances of either Apple or Microsoft doing an end-run around the whole industry and succeeding with their own communications services ecosystem. How many bloggers see that one coming?

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