Monday, October 21, 2013

Monetizing voice in a WebRTC world

We've focus heavily on WebRTC in recent months, with posts on how WebRTC could work with RCS or the role of the signaling layer. We're also closely following WebRTC discussions on our Twitter account.  This remains a rapidly developing ecosystem, yet one without clear winners or losers.  

In June, we featured a guest post on how to find the right WebRTC partners from Kelly Fitzsimmons, 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. 
Now we're happy to welcome back Kelly, as she examines the central question of how to monetize voice services in a WebRTC world. You can follow her on Twitter at @schnellerkeller


If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past couple years, it’s that voice is about a lot more than just counting minutes. And new markets are emerging to prove this point, as voice transitions from transient to permanent, from transport to asset. 

More than a decade ago, early VoIP innovators such as Skype, Jajah and Vonage disrupted traditional carrier pricing, which swung the value-creation arrow swiftly from telcos to the consumer. Now WebRTC is taking this to a new level because startups no longer have the same kinds of capital requirements that the VoIP innovators faced. So instead of hundreds of disruptive startups, the dominant players are now going to face millions.

Very mindful of this dynamic, telecoms have been searching hard to replace voice revenue with revenue from alternative products, vertical services and even riding up the value chain to enterprise.  However, for all this effort, voice as a service has proven maddeningly difficult to replace as a profit center.

But what if we are looking at voice the wrong way?  What if voice has value in it beyond the quality and the speed in which it can be transported?  Asynchronous voice – best represented commercially today as voicemail and robo-calling – may be the key to unlocking immense value.  We are just starting to see value creation in voice as content and “big voice data,” and in both cases, voice is persistent – not transient. 

Customers are showing that they are willing to pay for value-added voice services that allow them to be more responsive and productive. New billion dollar markets are likely to follow from these first tentative footsteps.

Traditionally, startups fill the gap between the availability of technology and the unwillingness of established players to leverage it.  But dominant players cause disruption too. Apple turned the mobile industry upside down, shifting power from access providers to the handset providers. Sprint reinvented the long distance call long before Skype was even a possibility.

The future of voice requires players, both old and new, to radically re-think the role of voice and where its true value lies. WebRTC virtually guarantees an explosion of new ideas and possibilities, which means incumbents have an opportunity to identify the ideas with the most profit potential and double down on those projects and/or paradigms.  Instead of investing in the disruption itself, the smart telecoms will invest in the inevitable pockets of value created amongst the cinders of disruption.

By Kelly Fitzsimmons of the Hypervoice Consortium

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

WebRTC – friend or foe of RCS?

At the Voice of Telecom we’ve taken several different looks at WebRTC and what it means for telcos, including, among other things, the role of IMS in the future of WebRTC and how to spot successful WebRTC partners. 

We’ve also written a lot about Joyn and RCS.  But what about the two together?

It might be easy to see the two technologies as competitors – one open source and the other a developing telecom standard.  But this would be short sighted, for comparing WebRTC and RCS head on is like comparing apples to oranges, not apples to apples.

Instead, the right answer for operators is not to choose between the two technologies – they must be viewed as complements.

To recap, WebRTC is a technology that enables web browsers to use a device’s camera and microphone to allow voice and video calls without the use of plugins. One of its main advantages is that it has lowered the barriers for smaller startups and developers to build real-time voice and video calling solutions, and, according to Disruptive Analysis, the one-billion-WebRTC-devices mark was reached earlier this year.

WebRTC is also currently the only existing soon-to-be standardized technology on the market to create horizontal cross-platform communication services, encompassing smartphones, tablets, PCs, laptops and TVs, which adds value for both consumers and enterprises.

WebRTC gives operators the opportunity to offer telephony services to more devices, such as PCs, tablets and TVs. By combining  existing IMS technologies, operators will be able to provide, for example, one-number services. WebRTC is not going to lead to increased revenues and profits on its own, but taking communications to the web can prevent revenues from plummeting and open up new and intriguing enterprise opportunities, particularly for consumer-facing companies initially but with far reaching implications in the future. There is also a great marketing value in WebRTC, showing that operators can stay relevant and encourage innovation. 

One important characteristic of WebRTC, however, is its lack of a standardized signaling layer, and it’s up to each service provider to decide how this is handled.  We discussed this in a post over the summer, and it remains crucial to locate a person and make a call.

This is where IMS and RCS come in. With RCS, operators can offer a wide range of services, including – on top of voice and video – chat, presence, address book, video share, image share and file transfer. It builds on the standards of the telecom industry with the connected quality and reliability.  

So how could an operator use WebRTC and RCS together?  A good example could be to expand the range of devices – such as PCs and tablets – that RCS could support.  An operator could do this by using the WebRTC media framework, IMS for find and connect, with the RCS services on top to give added value.

To give you a sense of the possibilities, earlier this year, analyst Doug Mohney wrote two posts at 
WebRTC world that discussed how RCS and WebRTC could effectively put most current OTT players out of business.  From his first post:
The bigger picture here is that OTT players are going to find themselves displaced by a combination of carrier supported and promoted services in RCS -- because at the end of the day, carriers want to have a large number of customer relationships  -- and WebRTC providing a one-stop shop for developing third-party apps that can tie into third-party services in ways we can't yet imagine.
This is only one possible scenario and RCS is one example of many, in which WebRTC is a potential complement for telcos and not disruptive.  If operators think creatively and are open to new technology and business models, we see many more ways to make the most of telecom and web technologies - working together, not separately.

By Christer Boberg for The Voice on Telecom