The question of what WebRTC means for telcos has many different answers, but it's one question that they should all be trying to answer right now.
So that's the definition of WebRTC, but the key thing to remember is that there are anywhere from 20 to 50+ possible use cases, according to Disruptive Wireless analyst Dean Bubley. Each is very different, including in how it is brought to market and how much service provider involvement is required.
There are consumer-facing apps (see below), machine-to-machine implementations, enterprise use cases, internal applications, and IMS-integrated browser apps to replace the softphone, which Bubley says is the most talked about example, but also the most boring and slow moving.
"The interesting thing is there is no template yet for what carriers are doing in this space, as it should be," he says. "There are 101 different ways and different customers."
It is easy to see why even the most basic WebRTC implementation would be an appealing proposition to any company with a call center or just one that works with consumers. When your customers find you though the web, click-to-call is the most direct way to get in touch. It becomes even more valuable when you can escalate a voice call to video without any interruption. (See Voxbone Tweaks Its Network for WebRTC .)
So far, several operators have dipped their toes into WebRTC in trials and actual implementations. Some early examples (of the boring variety) include:
- Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN)'s appear.in WebRTC service, launched in January in 193 countries, lets users set up video calls in their browser with one click.
- Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF)'s Tuenti, a social networking service it acquired in 2010, offers calls to PCs using the latest Chrome and Opera browsers. (See Telefónica: Digital Dreamer? and Telefónica's Looking Trendy.)
- NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) recently began a trial of a WebRTC-based video chat room, Skyway, for anyone with a capable browser. (See NTT Opens a WebRTC Chat Room.)
- SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) is experimenting with WebRTC use cases, including one that lets the visually impaired call customer service agents and provide a visual of their issue via video chat. (See SK Telecom Tests WebRTC for the Blind and SK Telecom Sounds Off on WebRTC.)
- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) says its new X1 platform, coming next year, will include WebRTC-enabled apps and video streaming.
Behind the scenes in WebRTC
Those are some consumer-facing examples, but they will likely not be the most common instances of operator involvement. Instead, they will play a role as the connectivity provider.
WebRTC is typically, but not necessarily, run as an extension to an IMS signaling core, so that if operators are connecting users via the web, they can ensure the quality and security of the call. This doesn't give them a consumer-facing function (like a lot of the operators want), but it's no less an important role for them to play.
The ephemeral picture site SnapChat's recent acquisition of AddLive, which offers a popular WebRTC API platform, illustrates why. Amir Zmora, vice president of alliances and partnerships at AudioCodes Ltd. (Nasdaq: AUDC), says that any company with its own web server can offer WebRTC, but it will have quality issues, especially if those servers aren't near where the call is being placed. Also, if the acquisition of AddLive taught the industry anything, it's that betting the farm on an API vendor that could suddenly vanish by way of acquisition isn't necessarily smart, even if it's willing to guarantee its code.
"Companies will move to the big ones, so a service provider that provides this type of service is something people will count on," Zmora says. "They know a Verizon, for example, will not disappear tomorrow, but a startup might be acquired or go belly up. There is a very good opportunity for service providers to provide the hosted backend for WebRTC."
Companies like call centers can't just rely on one-to-one calls. Connecting to an operator's infrastructure would enable them to connect via the SIP trunk or SBC anywhere in the world with quality and reliability in place.