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WebRTC & the Rise of the WebCo

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress -- There's a big opportunity for telecom service providers in WebRTC, but as with many emerging communications services and apps, there's also a big possibility they'll get cut out of the equation.

WebRTC is a free, open source project that turns supported web browsers into telephony engines. Essentially, any business or individual with a website could use the peer-to-peer technology to enable click-to-call, video chat, or multi-party collaboration directly from their site, without the need to download an app or plug in. (See Decoding WebRTC's Promise & Challenges .)

So why should operators care? Well, for one thing, they have the world's largest address book at their fingertips, in addition to their networks. WebRTC gives them a new way to reach their customers and enhance that interaction with multi-party video, quality of service, and a community that's not limited by requiring everyone to be members. (See Genband Builds a Gateway to WebRTC.)

Having an operator involved also means that a business or end user could accept incoming calls. That's a big limitation of WebRTC: As a web tech, its users can only call out.

Yet, while WebRTC would benefit from a cellular network, it could just as easily ride over it. That's why Andrew Goldberg, SVP of marketing and strategy at Dialogic Corp. (Nasdaq: DLGC), thinks WebRTC could turn any WebCo into a telco. He thinks this model would be particularly appealing to a social networking giant such as Facebook or a communications provider such as Twilio Inc. (NYSE: TWLO) or Viber.

His logic is that people are increasingly known by their identity rather than their phone number. A WebCo could get in on the trend of becoming a data mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) and offer the voice calling via WebRTC without a PSTN and a data identity for messaging. Dialogic provides the media server to enable this, and Goldberg said the company is in trials with Tier 1 telcos in the US, but he also sees the standard evolving quickly in the web world too.

"WebRTC empowers anyone to become a WebCo overnight," Goldberg said. "It's a question of, who wants to innovate most quickly?"

I have my doubts about a site such as Facebook becoming a virtual mobile service provider (for many reasons). Those rumors have been brought up and shut down several times over. But, the point is, it could happen. When it comes to innovating quickly, that's a game telcos tend to lose. WebRTC is yet another way for them to be cut out of the equation, and it's yet another technology they shouldn't ignore.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Joe Stanganelli 2/28/2014 | 11:41:05 PM
Intervention What best protects the telcos against being replaced by companies like Facebook, et al., is their willingness to help give governments information and conduct surveillance -- compared with a somewhat more privacy-valuing environment in Silicon Valley (esp. in the wake of the NSA revelations).  So fully expect government intervention to keep AT&T and Verizon alive and kicking against Valley threats.
RitchBlasi 2/28/2014 | 3:42:47 PM
Re: Time to turn the tables I wonder if the telcos will move faster on this when they totally swiitch to all IP -- for all bearer networks.  That may also be when Unified Communications takes off a bit more.  Quality issues continue to be an issue with voice running over IP, especially for mobile.  The latest delay by AT&T to deploy VoLTE and Verizon's continuing delays, and the industry's overall non forward-looking support makes me believe that WebRTC is on the back burner.  Think there are two words those folks consider when adopting:  cost/benefit. 
Sarah Thomas 2/28/2014 | 2:17:36 PM
Re: Time to turn the tables That's true, tb100. All Jibe's end points are also capable of doing browser-based calling via WebRTC, but the Sprint partnership to integrate Message+ isn't WebRTC. They plan to more tightly integrate it though, and it could evolve to support it.
tb100 2/28/2014 | 2:12:01 PM
Re: Time to turn the tables My confusion on Jibe and WebRTC was based on this:
http://www.jibemobile.com/the-telco-adoption-of-webrtc/

Maybe Jibe, like Google is planning on using WebRTC.
Sarah Thomas 2/28/2014 | 1:35:05 PM
Re: Time to turn the tables Goldberg seemed to think they were moving quite fast on WebRTC. He said they understand the threat, so they want to innovate quickly. But, how many times have you heard that? Never seems to happen in practice. I'm not optimistic. I bet they'll see it as more of an enterprise opportunity rather than a mass-market play, but that may end up being the best strategy for them.
Sarah Thomas 2/28/2014 | 1:33:41 PM
Re: Time to turn the tables Jibe supports RCS, but isn't WebRTC -- the difference being the protocol and how it's implemented. Jibe is an OTT service. And, yes, Google is an early supporter of WebRTC in its browsers, but I don't think Hangouts is WebRTC yet (is it?), although that is the eventual goal.

See: http://www.lightreading.com/mobile/volte-rich-communications/sprint-plots-rcs-laden-path-to-volte-/d/d-id/706074
tb100 2/28/2014 | 11:59:27 AM
Re: Time to turn the tables Maybe in an attempt to preempt others, Sprint has something called Messaging+ (by the company Jibe), which offers file sharing and video chat on top of messaging. I believe it uses WebRTC.

 

added: and isn't Google planning on using WebRTC for its Hangouts+? I think it will be hard to compete with Google, even for Sprint (how many people have heard of Messaging+ compared to Hangouts+?)
Carol Wilson 2/28/2014 | 10:36:56 AM
Re: Time to turn the tables Do telcos lack the vision to create the new service possibilities or do they just view every new service as potential competition to their existing service base? There's a lot of talk about getting to new services more quickly, but is that just talk?
[email protected] 2/28/2014 | 8:20:58 AM
Time to turn the tables Another develpoment that is an opportunity as well as a threat to the telcos.

Trouble is, so far the telcos treat these instances much more as threats than opportunities (for the most part - some like TEF Digital are looking at the opps...)

Can they ever be the ones to capitalize on such Web developments?
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