All indications show that many phone companies are starting to experiment with WebRTC a bit, with a few of them dabbling in over-the-top (OTT) solutions. The potential upside for both WebRTC and OTT is large, while the costs to get into the technologies are small. Will phone companies finally bite the bullet and go with proven off-the-shelf solutions or continue to wait for something better?
European phone companies have shown no hesitation in experimenting and implementing the latest IP and cloud technology, in contrast to more conservative U.S. carriers. Orange, Telefonica, and Telenor have all taken different paths to experimenting with OTT and WebRTC over the past couple of years, with each one picking and choosing different approaches.
Orange’s Libon OTT client added VoIP calling and “Libon Out” calls to off-IP phones back in late 2012, supporting the SILK codec to deliver HD voice for client-to-client calls. With Libon’s developers a part of Orange, the carrier has been able to add an “Open Chat” technology to support voice and video sessions with any HTML5 browser — hmm, doesn’t that sound a lot like WebRTC? — while embracing the open standards of Rich Communications Services (RCS).
Purist and telco haters argue RCS isn’t worthy of being considered an OTT service because it is standardized and supported by the mobile industry through GSMA. Regardless of the rhetoric, the promotion of RCS through the GSMA joyn brand steadily continues across Europe. Joyn’s biggest strengths are its ability to have a common address book and to self-discover other RCS-using clients for voice and video.
Cloud offerings are enabling service providers to add OTT services on a “pay-as-you-grow” basis, with initial offerings run by a third-party. As customer usage grows, the OTT offering can continue to be run via the cloud or migrated in-house, depending on what the carrier desires. GENBAND has a number of overseas carriers using its fring OTT offering, including Bouygues Telecom.
WebRTC’s greatest attraction is the ability to quickly add real time communications services to existing applications. Numerous cloud-based offerings are available to quickly add voice, video, and other services to existing web pages and mobile apps via APIs, toolkits, and service support. Advocates for WebRTC point out takes days to weeks to develop communications-based applications, as opposed to months and years
Telefonica acquired a number of WebRTC-based subsidiaries, with TokBox and Tuenti rolling out different WebRTC implementations. TokBox provides a services platform for enterprises to add WebRTC capabilities to their applications while Tuenti developed a mobile messaging client. Telefonica seems to be content to let its subsidiaries do their own thing, so long as the end result is to build new technology and attract clients.
So where are U.S. carriers on the WebRTC/OTT path? Indications are that some have started to work with WebRTC in the lab, but nobody’s ready to say if and when they’ll be offering services to enterprise customers. There also have been no acquisition announcements, a distinct possibility for some carriers to quickly gain WebRTC skills and services.
OTT has been slower to arrive in the States. Sprint teamed up with Jibe Mobile last year to offer an OTT RCS offering, but AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have yet to introduce their own offerings. There is some “Big Telco Think” posturing that VoLTE is a better voice solution than a typical OTT client, but there’s nothing to suggest that customers wouldn’t appreciate both VoLTE and OTT for their communications needs.