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SK Telecom Sounds Off on WebRTC

Sarah Thomas

When it comes to voice services, SK Telecom tends to be years ahead of the pack.

It was the first to launch voice over LTE (VoLTE). It was one of the few operators that built a successful Rich Communications Services (RCS) implementation, signing up more than 1 million customers in just 50 days. And now it's experimenting with WebRTC, or Real Time Communications, the open-source technology that can turn any supported browser into a rich communications engine. (See South Korea Hears First 4G Voice Service and SK Telecom Boasts 1M joyn.T RCS Users.)

Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) earns the distinction of being the first operator to launch a consumer-facing app over WebRTC, in the form of a chat room. But SK Telecom is testing the technology in its labs, preparing to improve its IMS-based technological infrastructure, and working with developers to build related services. (See NTT Opens a WebRTC Chat Room and WebRTC & the Rise of the WebCo.)

Light Reading caught up with Choi Jin-ho, manager of SK Telecom's ICT R&D division, to chat more about how SK Telecom is using WebRTC and where it sees the challenges and opportunities. Here's what he had to say.

On the hype around WebRTC: At present, I would like to focus more on implications WebRTC has. It represents a paradigm shift. The hype around its potential may be overblown or it may even fail to "cross the chasm" in the end. One certain thing, however, is that new versions of WebRTC will keep coming out anyway, and SK Telecom is also making preparations for it.

On the value of telcos in WebRTC: Telcos have long proven strong in RTC. Though many OTT companies have expanded their services in the area, telcos are still unrivaled for their technological prowess that has been accumulated and internalized through development and operation over an extended amount of time. One could see this by looking at the heated response from external developers when we disclosed part of WebRTC that we were internally developing.

On SK Telecom's WebRTC play: For our part, we just uploaded WebRTC on the already-existing IMS infrastructure, but developers showed more interest and excitement than we expected. Of course, we still have to stay focused to create a development-favorable environment, so that developers can easily access and develop diverse services.

On SK Telecom's WebRTC roadmap: Though WebRTC is browser-based technology, its compatibility with browsers is still limited. Considering that the market is not mature yet, we are internally reviewing proper ways to address this limitation.

On the lack of support from Apple and Microsoft: If they do not support it, we will face numerous difficulties as of now. However, related services don't have to be limited to desktop and mobile browser. Diverse IoT devices installed with web browser will come to the market soon. The real value of WebRTC may be proven in completely new areas, such as IoT or wearable devices, that are not as heavily affected by Apple or Microsoft as the mobile area.

On achieving global interoperability: It is still up to whether companies like Microsoft and Apple would support it or not. Compatibility with video codecs is also a challenge that has to be solved. We believe other possible issues than this can be resolved, either in the market itself or in the communities of developers.

On co-existing with RCS and OTT: WebRTC will become a steppingstone to enable development of far more OTT and RCS services. At the same time, existing services, as well, can be upgraded with WebRTC.

On the WebRTC opportunity: It would not be productive to use well-established infrastructure of mobile carriers only for voice calling, text messages, and video calling. The robust infrastructure developed through service experiences will surely play a critical role in creating innovative services through technologies like WebRTC. This is believed to be the biggest competitiveness of telecommunications companies.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
5/15/2014 | 4:57:43 PM
First movers
Dean Bubley reminded me that NTT is not actually the first operator to launch a consumer-facing WebRTC service. Telenor and Telefonica also have them. More on that coming soon...
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
5/9/2014 | 1:32:29 PM
More to come
SK Telecom is always interesting to hear from as they are usually so far ahead of the competition. It sounds like webRTC is on the cusp for them. I bet we'll see a lot more apps forthcoming. I imagine most will be more enterprise focused than consumer too.
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