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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How fast will WebRTC go mainstream? And will it be "beyond the browser"?

I've come across two interesting things this morning:

1) Snapchat apparently now has 100m monthly users and is valued at $10bn
2) I heard an ad for a free conference calling service on the radio

Oh, and thirdly, I saw a TV ad for Amazon Kindle the other day, featuring its Mayday live-help service.

Common theme? WebRTC, but not in generic "video calls in your browser" style, nor for greenfield "standalone" communications, but to add a feature to an existing product.

Mobile-messaging "OTT" player SnapChat acquired platform provider AddLive earlier this year, which it now uses as the basis for its integral video-chat service. While Snapchat's main service is "ephemeral messages" which disappear after viewing, it also now allows existing contacts to chat in realtime, while the camera button is held down. It's not used by everyone, but is interesting in that it's "WebRTC as a feature" and also in that it's not a traditional "person A calls person B for X minutes" model. And of course, SnapChat runs as a native app on smartphones, NOT as a site accessed via the browser.

Amazon Mayday has long been discussed as a clever and expertly-integrated use of WebRTC video/screen-sharing for customer service and support. It is overlaid on an existing SIP-based voice contact centre platform. It does one-way video only, so again not a "call". And it's launched with a dedicated button, not as a browser/website action on the Kindle Fire.

And then Freeconference.co.uk (owned by Iotum), which has an established audioconferencing bridge service using ordinary circuit dial-in. It's offering WebRTC (via the browser) but in audio-only mode at present. Again, it's putting WebRTC into an existing service platform and business model.

Now it's true to say that all of these services are leading in their respective fields. Not all of their competitors or peers have gone down the same path yet. But nevertheless, they demonstrate that WebRTC:

1) Is indeed commercially-viable, and in the "real world"
2) Is not just browser-based, but also in mobile apps
3) Is not just about "calls"
4) Is not just about video
5) Works on iOS irrespective of Apple's support in Safari
6) Has a device-support level well above the 1bn level and an active user-base that will likely be >10m people by the end of the year
7) Spans both consumer and enterprise domains (and telecoms if you include appear.in, Tuenti & Skyway)

If I compare this to the situation a year ago, the change is staggering. It's very easy to miss the overall change in tone and relevance, when you're close to the coalface. Yet these examples - including run-of-the-mill radio and TV ads, and articles in mainstream business publications - are an indicator of what is to come.

Those of you that have read this blog for a while will know that it's quite rare for me to be more enthusiastic than "the market" about a technology. Normally I'm the one criticising hype and deluded expectation. Yet I'd still say that WebRTC is an unusual example of something that is underhyped. It feels quite strange for me to be an advocate rather than a cynic.



D.B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.B. said...

OK Dean, it's clear from reading your blogs over the past year or so that you are sold on WebRTC. That you are an advocate, and no longer a critic, at least in that respect. What I would like to know is WHY? I don't get it. What exactly does WebRTC do that is going to change my life, either as a consumer of telecommunications, or as part (albeit small) of the industry? being able to chat to someone over the Internet? Ok, been able to that for a while now. Video calls? Haven't WANTED to do that ever since it first became available in the 1960s.

So my question to you, Mr. Advocate, is whatcha got?

Dean Bubley said...


I'm not a fan of video communications either! Pretty much only ever use it when it's a paying client that demands it.

What I see in WebRTC is the ability to achieve what I've talked about or several years - embedding communications into applications, websites, business processes, devices etc. I see voice/video/messaging diffusing from standalone types (eg "a phone call") to something integral to another activity - Salesforce, a game, customer service, social networking, whatever.

This is already becoming true for messaging (eg in-built IM in many apps / sites) and voice/video are next. Realtime P2P data is a separate domain.

It is this "democratisation" that I see as important, and WebRTC as a very capable enabler, albeit not the only one.

Basically, telecoms (in its broadest sense) is far too important to be left up to telecoms companies to control. WebRTC turns it into a feature that anyone can employ.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Dean on WebRTC.

Want to share some of my views on this subject -

I believe that WebRTC is a key enabler for fueling vertical industry applications for telcos. If telcos use it smartly enough - it can open up a whole new set of possibilities for them and can actually bridge the elusive OTT-Carrier fat pipe divide !

For example -

1. Video Advertising platforms targeted for specific telco customers can be on-boarded for telecom customers. Just like Google monetizes all its platforms using advertising, why cant telcos do the same for their own services and customers in a seamless manner ?

2. Video sharing/streaming applications right from the handset browser (using IMS/VoLTE only as a control plane). Why invest in a RCSe elephant, when you can on-board an existing OTT platform and plug it in using WebRTC into an existing IMS core infra ? (See my note on OMA REST APIs for WebRTC below for context).

3. Enterprise 2.0 apps. (Thinking beyond traditional enterprise Voice and E-SBCs ? Food for thought ?)

Operators and standards have to realize WebRTC is an enabler, and not just a bunch of new network boxes which are another extended euphoric manifestation of "RCSe".

For example - there are murmurs about integrating and using RCSe with WebRTC in the industry - which I feel is a step in the wrong direction. (Link: http://www.jibemobile.com/why-carriers-should-deploy-webrtc-alongside-rcs-for-mobile-communications/)

One effort in the right direction has been undertaken by OMA, which has defined REST endpoints for exposing WebRTC capabilities for vertical industry application providers:


This is a more open and collaborative approach, and maybe it will help on-board "OTT applications" in a smoother manner to traditional VoLTE based investments. Not all innovative services need to be developed from the "scratch" over VoLTE.

Whether these OTT apps are distributed to serve industry verticals such as healthcare, advertising or security - or whether they are offered as standalone apps to telco consumers is a business decision to be taken.

Any incremental thoughts?



Unknown said...

My son uses SnapChat. I don't. Now, I know I'm not an expert on this matter at all, but because I work as a freelancer I do find myself looking for newer and better things as far as communication. I don't understand how a company like SnapChat can be worth something but then the news says they aren't making a profit and how they are just now considering an advertising model. I write and handle social media for people...so like I said, I'm no expert. :)

I work with Mikogo.com on a frequent basis. I was wondering if you would review it at some point. I liked your honest feedback here in your entry. Is there a place to sign up to receive your report as soon as it is finished?

Dean Bubley said...

Hi Aayush - thanks for comments and concepts. Really interesting.

I really don't see much mileage in combining WebRTC & RCS, I agree - but then I don't see much point in RCS in the first place. It will be interesting to see what Comverse does with Solaimes, though.

How do you see the advertising model working in practice? Are you thinking about embedding ads into communications sessions, or embedding communications sessions into web ads?

I'll have a look at the OMA spec.

One problem is how telcos engage in selling these vertical services - is it just over their own access network & to their "subscribers", or are they available/sold to anyone with an Internet connection, in an OTT model? And if it's an OTT model, what value does IMS bring as a control plan, beyond maybe identity?

Dean Bubley said...

Hi Robin

Snapchat has value either because its investors foresee it having potential future revenue streams and profits (in similar fashion to Twitter & Facebook being highly-valued before having much revenue), or because there is an expectation it will be acquired & add value to someone else's platform.

Thanks for mentioning your other conferencing tool. I don't do reviews - you may be better contacting a journalist or blogger maybe?

The report will be published in the next week & I'll have contents & ordering details here & on disruptive-analysis.com. If you want to pre-order it, you can also use the payment form on http://disruptivewireless.blogspot.co.uk/p/blog-page.html

Unknown said...

Hi Dean -

I am very excited to read the report when it comes out. I am relatively new to WebRTC. I learn most of what I do either from tech news or from talking with my oldest son (not the SnapChat user - my 16 year old who also shuns the Book of Face). He is concurrently attending college while in high school (for computers). He has to write something weekly in regards to new technology so we spend a lot of time reading and learning about things like WebRTC. I plan on passing your paper on to him.

This is a great blog for me to learn from. :)