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

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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

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