Monday, June 24, 2013

3 keys to spotting successful WebRTC partners

WebRTC opens up possibilities for millions of developers to create new services that we can’t even imagine today.  New players are rapidly forming new ecosystems and transforming current ones, and we can’t yet say what will drive success.  Will it be new interactions? Or new relationships? Have we learned any lessons so far?  There don’t seem to be any definite answers, so let’s start our discussions here.

With that, we introduce our first guest post from Kelly Fitzsimmons. Kelly is a serial tech entrepreneur and co-founder of the Hypervoice Consortium. The consortium has the mission of articulating and advancing standards, capabilities and potential applications for Hypervoice, or the transformation of voice communications into searchable and shareable native web objects.

You can follow Kelly on Twitter at @schnellerkeller


 Standards don’t create disruption. Innovators do.  The ultimate value of WebRTC will emerge from how well entrepreneurs and technologists put WebRTC into action.  By dramatically lowering the barriers to entry, what used to be hard will become easy.  The result will be throngs of new startups. So then what?

For telco players looking to partner with hot up-and-coming startups, it is important to focus on the few, not the many.  In essence, a telco partner needs to try and spot the "winners" before they know they are winners.  And in this way, a partner's role is not that much different than a venture capitalist. 

So the real question is, do any of the early WebRTC startups have a discernible advantage? 

1.     Capitalization - Has the startup raised capital during the downturn?   The ability to raise funds in the past – particularly during the Great Recession – indicates that their leadership earned the trust of others and, most importantly, their technology has gone through a modicum (if not a lot) of due diligence. This is proof of some staying power.

2.     Team – Does the startup team have experience and expertise in navigating relationships with large strategic partners in the past?  Do they understand how to navigating licensing, IP issues, channel?  The more seasoned the team, the more likely a successful outcome.  If they don’t understand their partner’s world, they are likely to be impatient, which can be exhausting for all parties.

3.     Revenue - Does the startup already have revenue from real clients?  If so, they have moved past market discovery into market validation. This is a critical step that many startups never make.  This step alone will help you significantly de-risk the partnership. If they don’t have revenue now or likely ever, choose another partner.

With so many new entrants, telco has a rich playing field to work from.  These emerging companies offer less nimble enterprises ways to innovate quickly and get new products to market.  Although acquisition may be one tried and true route, early partnering is what many of these young entrants really want.  They want access to your subscriber base and billing systems.  For these startups, revenue is king.

The advantage for telcos in partnering instead of early acquisition is that it de-risks the deals. Do these startup partners really walk the walk? Are your customers interested in their products? By partnering early with a few startups, acquisition becomes easier on the backend.  First concentrate on being the strategic and essential partner.  The more key you are to their success, the better the ultimate terms.

By Kelly Fitzsimmons of the Hypervoice Consortium

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The key role of IMS - and operators - in the future of WebRTC

We started last week to look at WebRTC and both the benefits and limitations of its lack of a “find and connect” solution. Today, let’s look at how IMS could play a key role in the future of WebRTC.

Telcos already have invested in an excellent “find and connect” layer in the form of IMS,  and implementing a WebRTC signaling layer with IMS would allow the telecom industry to find  a niche in this new ecosystem. Operators basically just need to offer simple API’s for IMS call control that can be used in conjunction with the API’s for WebRTC.

Having this in the context of a telecom grade network, you get all of the other good stuff like interoperability, security and telco-grade reliability. It would also allow telcos to embrace the web developer community and offer them additional value to WebRTC-based applications and services, that is, adding new technology while telecom core values are kept.

Until the arrival of WebRTC, it was very hard for smaller startups or developers to build real-time voice and video calling solutions – it simply required too much investment. WebRTC lowers the barriers to entry, but even with WebRTC, it’s not that simple for a small innovative startup to design ubiquitous service access with interoperability with existing services, and telco levels of quality and reliability. Most have the technical expertise but lack the experience, scale and network assets of established operators.

However if start-ups and developers worldwide could stand on the shoulders of the telecommunication industry – still the biggest giant in communications – they would not have to reinvent the wheel again and again. By cooperating with telcos, they could suddenly enjoy the same opportunity and resources, create more competitive offerings with standardized technology that allows for full interworking, as the likes of iMessage, Google + Hangouts and Skype, etc.

In reality, the telecom industry is in a great position to drive WebRTC-related innovation by offering PSTN termination, quality of service assurances, interoperability between services, and use of server-side infrastructure to mention a few examples.

So, to answer the question we asked the other day, WebRTC does have the potential to level the playing field. Just not all by itself.

By Christer Boberg and Thea Sommerdyk for The Voice on Telecom

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The missing signaling layer in WebRTC is both an advantage and a limitation

Could WebRTC be the best thing since sliced bread? It’s being hailed as a revolutionary technology, and the future of communications. And here at the Voice on Telecom, we’ve certainly been talking about it and its many possibilities since last year and as recently as this March

But while WebRTC opens up VoIP and video capabilities to millions of developers, it has created wild expectations that it will be a game changer.  This may turn out to be true in the future, but for now, WebRTC is only one part of a successful communication service.

So what’s missing then?

We all know that WebRTC enables web browsers to use the camera and microphone to allow peer-to-peer voice and video calls without the use of plugins – this is the media layer.  But to actually make this work, you need to locate someone and make the call, or “find and connect” and this involves a signalling layer.
WebRTC standards cover the media layer but, as Google drove the development of WebRTC, it intentionally disregarded the signaling layer.

This absence of standards allows developers to use WebRTC in any real time communication settings, regardless of the “find and connect” solution and protocol. This can be an advantage but also a limitation, since without “find and connect” there can be no communication between parties, and the choice of signalling protocols can directly impact the success or failure of your service.

So this missing signaling layer is key.

By Christer Boberg and Thea Sommerdyk for The Voice on Telecom

Friday, June 7, 2013

Playing to strength: interoperability will remain a foundation of telco innovation

Innovation and interoperability go hand in hand, and we shouldn’t forget this point as we listen to the buzz around OTT voice and messaging services, with small startups portrayed as nimble and innovative in contrast with more established mobile operators.
For while there is no denying the appeal of many OTT innovations, it is still interoperability that provides the base for all other services to grow in conjunction with. This was true as the mobile community expanded to six billion users, and it is true today of RCS-e and Joyn, which are fast making group chat interoperable and standardized.

Interoperable innovation is happening in other arenas as well, driven by established telecom companies, with VoLTE and webRTC as prime examples. Here at the Voice on Telecom, we’ve examined the potential of all these services and more, from browser-based communication to HD Voice to WiFi VoIP and video calling.

It’s good to remember that within enriched services, the OTT players are the incumbents and most of the operators are the new kids on the block. But operators can work at a scale that most startups can’t, such as launching interoperable services in integrated packages across many devices, including fixed access such as WiFi and devices like personal computers. They can simplify a service and package it nicely in affordable bundles – comprised of data, devices, enriched communication services and devices – to make adoption hassle free.

Joyn particularly offers this blend of flexibility and interoperability. Operators can already customize and add different services in addition to the core Joyn offering – and this kind of tailored offering will be appropriate depending on every operator’s different market and position. This is true innovation – deciding when to interoperate and when to differentiate.

Peter Carson, senior director for marketing at Qualcomm, put it nicely in a recent interview with
Where operators have a real opportunity is in bringing to market truly universal, reliable iterations of such services, he says. And while that seamlessness, across networks and international borders, is where much of the time consuming complexity resides, mobile operators should not be disheartened.
And interoperability is going to be even more important as communication services become embedded in every context that can possibly support them.  From a 2009 piece in the Financial Times by Michael Shrage, a researcher from MIT:
But where interchangeable parts enabled the mass production era more than a century ago, tomorrow’s interoperable systems promise richer, more diverse and more customizable innovation. Economic historians and post-industrial pundits alike observe that high-impact innovations come less from scientific breakthroughs than from clever recombinations of existing inventions.
To give a concrete example, suppose that a business person is late making a flight connection and has to rebook their ticket.  Typically they would have to call the airline or travel agent and give all their info.  The level of service drops to the lowest common denominator – a voice call.  But what if the agent already knew who they were, what flight they had been on, and knew why they were delayed?  This kind of contextual information could save important time, but it also leads to a better user experience, and all this means increased loyalty to the service provider.

To go even further, think of all the ways communication could expand into machine-to-machine communication, other industries such as health and transportation and beyond. It’s exciting stuff, but it’s not a vision that can possibly be built on isolated islands of innovation.  We need interoperability to make it a reality.