The first real sign of progress from the operator initiative to open up core services to application developers looking to embed real-time communications, dubbed Project ORCA, is expected to be revealed in the fourth quarter.
Project ORCA, or Open Real-Time Communications APIs, was started by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) this time last year with the goal of providing generic client-side software, orca.js, to developers to incorporate with their own APIs to run a WebRTC service across any network. (See Killer Apps Meet Killer Whale: ORCA Opens Up and US Carriers Team on App Interface Initiative.)
WebRTC makes it easy for anyone to get up and running with video, voice, or presence in an HTML5 browser, but it leaves the signaling work to the developer. ORCA was formed to simplify this complex process by eliminating the need for carrier-specific coding. Participating operators provide their transport libraries and gateways to developers, which can tap into them by incorporating the orca.js code in their APIs. (See What WebRTC Means for Telcos.)
The end result is the "write once, run everywhere" promise operators have been working towards enabling for app developers for years. When the initiative was announced last year, ATIS said it would move faster than traditional operator-led projects as it didn't require significant changes on the network side. The group was aiming for initial deployments in 2014, but Jim McEachern, ATIS senior technology consultant, says now they are shooting for just a demo of the cross-network technology in the fourth quarter of the year.
McEachern told Light Reading at the end of May that ATIS is in the process of developing open-source APIs and is preparing a "potential demo" for the fourth quarter in which a web app running on the ORCA API would run across different service provider networks. He says some ideas of what they will show off include a WebRTC app to access a travel agency or an enterprise app that requires a multimedia session, but that's supported by all operator networks.
"Today when most app developers take advantage of service provider APIs, if they want to run it on different service provider networks, they have to tweak it to take advantage of different APIs," he explains. "We would show where an app can be written once and run on multiple networks."
It's taking a long time to get to that point, but McEachern says ORCA will be valuable to those app developers serving the enterprise market that require high reliability and complex features, but perhaps don't have a development team that wants to learn SIP. For them, ORCA provides a simple mechanism that allows them to leverage proven capabilities of service provider network for signaling, he says. They get the reliability of a service provider network, and, in turn, the value of the network increases, perhaps giving the operator the opportunity to monetize the apps it runs.
"Even if you have your own SIP stack, if you're trying to use it in a WebRTC context, it isn't just cutting and pasting; it requires expertise," McEachern says. "We believe app developers don't want to get into that. They want APIs they can use and are simple for them to build into apps."
ATIS has open-source APIs in development, but the next, and trickier step, is tying service provider infrastructure together for a commercial offer. McEachern says a lot of the interest he's seen is around apps that tie into IMS to deliver voice directly over the Internet. He is seeing a lot of hybrid use cases in which developers take advantage of certain IMS capabilities but it's not all or nothing.
"You can take advantage of certain capabilities and strengths of one network and build a set overall solution by mixing and matching," he says, adding that this is enabled through ORCA and the focus on APIs.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading