How many of you use FaceTime, Viber or Skype, rather than picking up the phone? I bet there are quite a few of you out there. Personally, I actually use all of these (and others…), depending on whom I’m calling. That’s not great news for service providers who have to fight off aggressive over the top (OTT) players like these offering free communication services, (ironically over the service providers’ own networks) – and with hundreds of millions of users, they definitely have an impact on service provider revenues.
But now an even bigger challenge has appeared, courtesy of Google.
It’s called WebRTC and if you haven’t heard of it yet, here are a few examples of how this technology could change the way you communicate:
* Think of a local Pilates instructor in London looking to attract new customers: she sets up a website, invests in AdWords to attract potential clients to her website, and then directs these leads to a contact page or a phone number. But with WebRTC, she can close the loop: you can access her website and contact her directly by voice or video (wherever she is) through the web browser just by clicking on a link. No OTT vendor is required e.g. no need to log in to Skype.
* Then there’s the entrepreneur who wants to talk with two prospective partners in a video conference call but doesn’t want to force them both to use the same service: “do you use Skype? What’s your Skype ID? Let’s do a call at 20:00 on Wednesday”. Instead, he logs on to webconf.com, writes down the emails of the potential partners, schedules the date and time, and they all get a calendar invitation with a URL to click when the time comes. No installation, no sign in, no hassle and no fuss.
* Gamers in an online multiplayer game can now interact verbally with other players while they’re playing the game – with no additional software installation needed.
* People looking for a place to rent, can go to an online site, select a property and schedule a virtual tour of the place with its current renter/owner. At the scheduled time, they get to do a video chat tour of the house from the owner’s smartphone – no app or download required.
So that’s what we could use it for, but what actually is WebRTC?
In a nutshell, it’s a technology, acquired and repackaged by Google, that allows developers to build real-time communication into web pages and to use VoIP applications through any browser.
But while it’s going to affect operators, it’s the OTT players who really need to watch out because it brings down the subscription walls of OTT players which are protecting their apps.
If you’ve ever used Skype, you’ll understand what I mean. The first time involved me having to first subscribe to and download the app or software, and then log in (and afterwards, I can still only use it with someone else who has also done the same). So if I want to communicate with someone in real time, it usually involves installing something or subscribing to the same particular service that they also use. These are the virtual walls that the OTT vendor (in this case, Skype) has set up to protect loyalty to its application. (You can’t talk between Skype, Viber and FaceTime).
WebRTC is going to change that.
WebRTC takes down the silo’ed walls of OTT vendors by removing the need for a physical client for each OTT vendor. Basically, you won’t need to subscribe to or download anything, and each OTT vendor can decide for itself how people will be able to use it. You might not even need an OTT user ID such as your Skype ID or an email address – just one simple click on a web link could connect you to someone else, whether it’s having a video or voice conversation.
But as far as the service providers are concerned, is WebRTC a threat or an opportunity?
Well, it’s both – it just depends what they decide to do with it.
If they want to carve themselves out a place in this new ecosystem, they’ll need to embrace the web developer community by providing them with additional value to WebRTC-based applications and services. In fact, the service providers can actually drive WebRTC-related innovation by offering PSTN termination, quality of service assurances, use of server-side infrastructure, and session-based charging, among others.
As much as they might want to, service providers are never going to be able to return to the golden revenue days before VoIP OTT players arrived on the scene, but WebRTC will allow them to stop the trend, and maybe even reverse it a little bit, depending on how fast and how far they’re going to act. (Web developers are already looking for WebRTC solutions they can stitch and mesh into their applications). AT&T, T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom and Orange are all examples of major service providers who have been quick to start investigating the opportunities that WebRTC presents.
The question is, how long will it take for others to follow?
NOTE: By the way, if anyone is planning to head to Paris in the fall, I’ll be exploring (and presenting) different aspects of the amazing new world of WebRTC at the WebRTC 2012 conference, 11-12 October.