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WebRTC: A Double-Edged Sword for Telcos

James Crawshaw
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
James Crawshaw

WebRTC (Real-Time Communications) is bringing a significant change in the communications landscape that will bridge the web and telephony worlds.

This poses both an opportunity for and a threat to telecom operators. The threat is clear: Consumers and enterprises could turn increasingly to the web for their voice and video communications, dispensing with traditional public switched telephony network (PSTN) services. However, voice-over-IP (VoIP) is not a new threat and, in many ways, WebRTC is more of a threat to existing over-the-top (OTT) players such as Skype than it is to telcos.

By enabling voice and video communication directly in the browser, users will be able to dispense with dedicated applications such as Skype and plugins such as Flash. But perhaps the most powerful thing about WebRTC is that voice and video telephony applications can now be developed in JavaScript, a programming language understood by millions of developers, unlike voice and video networking protocols. Hence, WebRTC has the potential to enable armies of developers to create their own real-time communications apps in a way that has not been hitherto possible with alternative frameworks such as RCS/joyn.

While the opportunity for JavaScript developers is clear, the opportunity for telcos is less obvious. At its most basic, WebRTC enables telcos to easily launch OTT services of their own, cannibalizing their traditional telco competitors in the process. (See WebRTC in the Wild and What WebRTC Means for Telcos.)

But perhaps more creative ways of exploiting WebRTC and tying it into traditional PSTN services can provide differentiation for the telecom operators. Alternatively, we may see a bifurcation of the industry into utility-like companies that supply bandwidth packages and communication service providers that ride on top of the utility infrastructure and manage the customer relationship.

Ubiquitous browser support and debates over video and signaling technology have stymied WebRTC somewhat. Chrome and Firefox are fairly WebRTC-compliant, but IE and Safari are not (yet). This lack of support is due in part to technology debates about video codecs and signaling; in part it is due to the threat WebRTC poses to Microsoft's and Apple's existing communications services (Skype, Lync, FaceTime, iMessenger). The W3C standards process might seem somewhat chaotic compared to the more consensus-driven approach of telecom standards. However, web standards move at a faster pace than telecom, and while that might lead to some interoperability issues along the way, ultimately WebRTC should evolve into a robust technology.

The new Heavy Reading Insider, "WebRTC: Get Ready for the Next Telecom Revolution," examines the emerging WebRTC standard, looks at WebRTC applications for both the consumer and enterprise markets, discusses some of the hot technological debates surrounding the standard, and some of the technical challenges that remain to be solved. The report also profiles 11 tech companies that are addressing the WebRTC opportunity with solutions for both telecom operators and enterprises.

— James Crawshaw, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Insider

WebRTC: Get Ready for the Next Telecom Revolution, a 25-page report, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Heavy Reading Insider, priced at $1,995. This report is available for $900. To subscribe, please visit:

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User Rank: Moderator
7/11/2014 | 3:54:43 PM
4Us of Demand
Putting aside the questions around the 4Cs of supply (cost, coverage, capacity, and clarity/QoS), can we rate WebRTC along the 4Us of demand:





Answering these 4 or 8 issues critically will tell us whether network effect occurs and whoever invests in WebRTC can generate ROI.
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/10/2014 | 8:58:07 AM
Come again?
Respect due to James for flagrant use of the word 'bifurcation'. Who needs Readers Digest - boost your vocabulary with Light Reading. Something to do with shellfish, right?
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