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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

New report published! WebRTC Market Status & Forecasts: The hype is justified: it *will* change telecoms

NEW! First major analyst study & forecasts for the WebRTC Market and Value Chain
Disruptive Analysis has been the key analyst company following WebRTC  since June 2011, only weeks after Google first open-sourced the key audio/video components for web browsers. Since then, WebRTC has featured prominently on this blog, in Disruptive Analysis research reports & consulting, conferences and in Future of Voice workshops.

The report is 160 pages in length, including detailed commentary, analysis, forecasts and over 50 tables and charts - and forms the cornerstone of ongoing coverage throughout 2013 and beyond. More than 70 companies involved in WebRTC products & services are discussed.

Key takeaways
- WebRTC adds easy, flexible voice & video into websites and apps
- Applicable across sectors: telecoms, consumer web, enterprise etc
- One of most disruptive web/telecoms innovations for years
- Extremely fast pace of evolution: weeks and months, not years
- Microsoft & Apple slow, but unlikely to cause major roadblocks
- 3bn capable devices & 1bn individual users by end-2016
- 50% penetration of PCs by end of 2013
- Smartphone & tablet WebRTC will ramp from 2H 2014 on
- PCs adopt WebRTC through browser; phones/tablets more complex
- Early use-cases for web calling, conferencing, e-learning & verticals
- Strong interest for UC, contact centres & IMS, but will take time...
- .... so telcos must start work now, to work through the issues
- Magnifies “OTT” threat for telcos, but also helps Telco-OTT
- Numerous “gateway” sub-types for vendors to target
- Peer-to-peer use of WebRTC to drive unexpected new web innovations
- Monetisation of WebRTC will be heavily use-case dependent
- Still early pre-standard implementation. Caution/patience needed
- But for once, the hype is justified

Disruptive Analysis is known for its contrarian stance on many technologies. Sometimes this is negative, and sometimes it is positive. In this case, it seems that the true scale and impact of WebRTC are being underestimated by many. While there is already a measure of hype around the technology, that is more “general buzz”, rather than a more forensic analysis of the potential implications on a sector-by-sector basis.

Over the years, we have been accustomed to seeing new features appear in our web browsers – streaming video, scrolling timelines, auto-completing forms, in-page IM chat and so on. Typically we think “that’s neat!” and start using it without much further thought. Soon, we see it crop up in all sorts of different websites – and also in hybrid native/web apps on our smartphones and tablets.

The next feature is realtime, high-quality, voice and video communication. It will extend beyond standalone “calls” that are typical of today’s VoIP services and telephony. The “bare-bones” flexible nature of WebRTC means that developers will not be constrained by the user interaction types or business models or the past.

While WebRTC still faces some formidable challenges to perfect and standardise, it is displaying many signs that suggests that it is close to becoming an inevitable winner. There are no obvious deal-breakers on the horizon – even Apple’s much-trumpeted “no comment” position, or Microsoft’s rival CU-RTC-Web proposal, have workarounds, and are unlikely to be long-term obstacles.

The breadth of companies involved – including Google, Ericsson, Cisco, Telefonica and AT&T – spans both traditional telecoms, enterprise communications and the web. We will see web access added by telcos, for example for IMS access from the browser. And we will also see realtime voice and video communications added by to the web inside social networks, or allowing informal “call centre” functions on normal websites.

But the aspect that impresses Disruptive Analysis the most is the sheer speed of development. Imaginative prototypes, demos and early commercial offers are appearing, even before the standards are finalised. Problems are being resolved in weeks or months, not years. Unlike most telecom-only solutions, developer interest seems to be accelerating, fed by Google’s evangelism and WebRTC’s appearance on the list of cool new additions to HTML5.

To those in the industry, it is easy to forget that it is still “early days”. The first public, mainstream support of WebRTC in browsers is only a few months old. By the end of 2013, the picture should be very different indeed, with much greater clarity about different OS and browser support, and the first “stars” of the new technology starting to coalesce.

This report is an attempt to bring together an analysis of the key strategic issues, make some bold predictions about major milestones, and put some first-cut numbers on this nascent industry. Disruptive Analysis will be covering WebRTC on an ongoing basis, and will be issuing updates to subscribers on a quarterly basis, as well as commenting regularly through Twitter (@disruptivedean & @DApremium), the Disruptive Wireless blog, and various events including WebRTC Expo in June 2013

Contents pages are here

To buy one-off reports please either pay online by card/Paypal using the links below, or email information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com to arrange payment via purchase order + invoice.

Reports will usually be delivered within 24 hours as PDFs by separate email.

Also available on request (please contact via email)
- Annual subscriptions, including quarterly updates to forecasts, company trends & market status
- Private internal workshops on WebRTC strategy
- Roadmap for Voice public workshops, including WebRTC

WebRTC report (PDF) 1-3 users

WebRTC report (PDF) Corporate Licence

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

New Cisco mobile VNI numbers bring some realism

"Steady increase".

Makes a welcome change from "exponential" and similar hyperbole in the past.

Cisco has put out its revised 2012-2017 forecasts for mobile data traffic. I'm horribly busy today so I can't put out a forensic analysis or listen in live to the webcast.

However, a couple of headlines:

Cisco has reported global mobile data growth of 70% during 2012, and revised down its 2013 mobile data traffic forecasts from 2.4EB to 1.6EB, and 2016 forecasts from 10.8EB to 7.4EB (EB=Exabyte). I think it's still being over-enthusiastic, but this is a welcome return to a sense of reality.

"Tiered plans are effective" - to me, this is a key point of understanding and change to Cisco's methodology. Basically, caps and tiers are effective at changing subscriber behaviour. More fancy approaches are (largely) unnecessary - and as I've often written before, this indicates that all the pain associated with unworkable application-specific tariffs can be avoided.

Also, it has recognised that WiFi use is much higher than first thought - although it's a little unclear whether it is just counting "true offload" (ie data that would otherwise have gone over cellular), or also includes what I term "private WiFi use" and extra elasticity, as users exploit free/fast connections by using more data than they otherwise would have.

Where I have doubts is about its forecasts of usage per device, which don't appear to have factored in late-adopters (& emerging market users') likely much lower usage than more "experienced" or "enthusiastic" smartphone owners. 

While I applaud Cisco for (perhaps belatedly) down-grading its forecasts, I'm not convinced that deleting its earlier numbers and predictions from its website was such a wise move. As a forecaster, you need to be able to be proud when you get it right, and humble when you get it wrong. (FAQs: "Historical IP traffic numbers attributed to the Cisco VNI are listed in Wikipedia" - why?) I found a mirrored version of last year's full report here.

Overall, I'm feeling pretty vindicated. I put out a long blog post last year on why I thought many forecasts were over-cooked, and it's something I've gone into greater depth with my consulting clients. It's good to see some revisions - now we've got past the "tsunami" hype we can focus on how to make the right investment / network / service packaging decisions.

Edit: great & detailed analysis by Tim Farrar here

(Sidenote: Qualcomm, now *please* stop with the 1000x marketing slogan. You're now at the top of the forecast-inflation league table) 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Joyn - risible overhype, DT spoiling the party, and a privacy nightmare

 I'd mostly given up writing about Joyn / RCS, because it's not very nice to speak ill of the dead.

But the past week or so has thrown up a ton of issues that I feel need to be addressed.

The first one is the absolutely ridiculous hyperbole about Joyn being a "done deal", which will no doubt reach a crescendo around MWC in a few weeks' time. I've seen a number of vendor blogs, press articles and other missives that take the tone of "everyone agrees that Joyn is wonderful and inevitable", in a fashion reminiscent of a 1950s Soviet propaganda poster.

Take for example PR/marketing firm Redmill Communications' line: "When we talk to people about it, it’s clear that RCS is just something that ought to be done." Well, I guess that depends which people you talk to, but I certainly encounter a large amount of skepticism or outright derision about RCS, among both vendors and operators. Perhaps unsurprisingly, messaging vendor Acision's house blog is similarly gushing about RCS.

To be fair, others have been more sanguine, with The Register slating Joyn's chances and quoting OpenCloud with a line that I would have been proud of myself "RCS is bringing virtually nothing, and it has taken them five years to do it". Somewhere in the middle is Kineto (disclosure: a client) which is trying to blend RCS with Telco-OTT concepts and some additional features and capabilities in its Smart Comms app. Taking *some* of the RCS capabilities and concepts, and running them as an app in OTT-style form, makes a lot more sense than the branded, cross-operator Joyn approach.

The next few weeks will undoubtedly see a continued gush of hype before Barcelona. I suspect there's a central push recommended by the GSMA's marketing people to "fake it till you make it" - basically just pretend that it's all inevitable, in the vague (and vain) hope of creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. Lots of opportunities for small boys wanting to spot naked emperors.

All of which must have gone left anyway, with DT's apparent kicking of the RCS ball into the long grass, using the damning phrase "delayed indefinitely" and seemingly blamed on Android implementation/fragmentation difficulties.

It's a bit difficult to tell if it is referencing native integration of Joyn into T-Mobile's own supplied Android phones, or the performance of the aftermarket app for download onto other devices. (Germany has a quite high proportion of prepay users without subsidised phones, often bought through non-operator channels).

Either way, I can think of a few possible areas of problems that DT is finding with implementation, not least because it looks like Joyn apps are both complex and deeply invasive into the Android OS. I hadn't really looked at what is "under the hood" for RCS applications, and I was pretty surprised / shocked with what I found.

Have a look at the Vodafone & MetroPCS Joyn app descriptions on Google Play, click the "permissions" tab, scroll down and "show all".

Basically, if someone installs Joyn, it gives the operator the right to pretty much control the whole phone, especially the communications elements - not just send & receive SMS, but read their contents and the archive too. It can report which other apps are running, read the call log, check your calendar and assorted other capabilities. Indeed, the MetroPCS ones ask for permission to "Draw over other apps" ("Allows the app to draw on top of other applications or parts of the user interface. They may interfere with your use of the interface in any application, or change what you think you are seeing in other applications)".

If you compare the Joyn apps' required permissions with rival apps on Play, you'll see it needs much more access. I had a look at Skype, Whatsapp, Tango, Line etc - only Viber comes close in terms of permissions it needs.

Leaving aside the privacy and control issues for a second, this also suggests that Joyn is a pretty heavyweight app, needing a large amount of testing as it has so many tentacles throughout the phone. Add in the fact that each operator will have their own features and implementations, and you can see huge scope for bugs, interoperability issues (ironic) and privacy invasions. 

Lastly, privacy and control is going to be a *huge* issue here. Putting a Joyn app on your phone (even if it's unlocked and owned by you, not subsidised & owned by DT) basically gives it access to pretty much *everything*. It massively over-reaches what most users will feel comfortable giving up control over. 

There is absolutely no way that I would install this personally - why does the operator think it has a right to snoop on what other applications I have running locally on my phone? That's hugely invasive and "none of their business", especially if it's a device I've bought through a retail channel and own outright, rather than received subsidised.  

Worse, because Joyn is intended as a unifying brand for RCS, it only needs one telco's version to misuse these permissions, and the rest of the industry gets tarred with the same brush. 

In fact, this all raises huge questions about what rights you sign away when you buy a subsidised and customised phone through operator channels. It reminds me a bit of the discussion a few years ago about buying laptops from telcos, where some were proposing to monitor/control what apps you were allowed to use. It makes me much more understanding of Apple's rigorous policies on what authorised AppStore apps are allowed to do.

Joyn appears to have been designed with the assumption that it will be the primary communications app/UI on the phone, rather than assume parity & coexistence with all the others. Again, perhaps fair enough if you buy a phone from an operator, but if it's *my* phone/tablet and I download it independently, then I expect apps to behave themselves and "know their place". It all seems massively arrogant & will see user push-back, even when it finally works. Joyn needs to prove its usefulness & earn trust, before gradually extending its reach with user consent.

(I'm also imaging the havoc that users with dual-SIM devices will experience, if they've got Joyn apps from both operators. Also, it's not clear to me what happens when users SIM-swap - do they need to delete one operator's Joyn app and download the other?) 

Of course, there are plenty of reasons besides this why RCS / Joyn is destined to fail. But given that various telcos have been sneering at WhatsApp and Facebook for privacy violations, they perhaps should step out of the glasshouse themselves first. 

**Edit 3/2/13: apparently, some versions of Joyn can't even be deleted or uninstalled from phones, especially Android sold through operator channels. This is a huge mistake, especially as the update cycle is so slow. Consider the scenario where there is public uproar (unexpectedly) about a Joyn feature for some reason - privacy, performance, misuse, costs or whatever. If it is sufficiently bad, it may be justification for people to return the phone as unfit-for-purpose and exchange it for a non-Joyn device - which would be very costly for the operator.

(If you're an operator CTO or CFO reading this, and you're skeptical about RCS / Joyn and want good arguments to avoid wasting money on it, please contact me about workshops or consulting advisory services)