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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WebRTC Delamination: shifting vendor roles, and recent moves from Ericsson, Temasys, Cisco, Tokbox & Mozilla

One of the major themes I address in my current research on voice and video / WebRTC trends is one I call "delamination". It's the opposite of vertical integration - the carving out of thin, narrow layers of services or products, in areas where companies have particular skill, focus or market reach.

It might be provision of a particular bit of client-side software, an effective hosted TURN server, an "enabler" of some kind, a particular security or authentication element, an especially-scalable virtualised network function, testing or analytical product, and so forth.

In a design-led approach to communications, this means that developers have both "raw ingredients" to create their own "recipes", as well as broad array of partly-prepared and pre-processed garnishes and side-dishes.

To continue the food analogy, if you really like salads, you can:

  • Plant & grow your own lettuces & make your own salad
  • Plant your lettuces but pay someone else to cultivate them
  • Buy lettuces from a farmer at the farm
  • Buy lettuces transported to a local market
  • Buy lettuces from your supermarket
  • Buy lettuce leaves from your supermarket
  • Buy chopped & prepared salad from your supermarket
  • Buy salad in a restaurant
  • Share someone else's salad
  • Watch someone else eating salad on YouTube
  • Subscribe to the Salad Channel
A similar approach is now applying to WebRTC (and to voice/video capabilities more generally). Developers - and these include intermediate developers like in-house groups at vendors and telcos - have a whole array of choices. They can build applications and services from scratch, use commercial or open-source software elements, host software internally or in the cloud - or use a third-party platform, and so on.

(This is one of the reasons it's so hard to answer the question "what's the $ market size for WebRTC?" - you can define it at any level you like, and there's potential for rampant double-counting if you include the whole value chain).

Now all this is nice in theory... but is it actually happening, and at "industrial scale"?

A few recent developments suggest that it is, indeed happening in a very meaningful sense:

  • Platform provider Temasys has announced a commercial version of its WebRTC plug-ins for IE and Safari browsers, with extra "enterprise-grade" support, intended for major software developers wanting to do full-scale deployments to business users.
  • Mozilla is working with WebRTC platform provider Tokbox to embed communications capabilities directly into the browser as "Firefox Hello". Its platform has hundreds of millions of users.
  • Cisco has open-sourced its H.264 implementation for use in WebRTC applications, and it too has been adopted in Firefox.
  • Ericsson has open-sourced its Bowser browser and OpenWebRTC client framework. This is really important both in terms of "big company delamination", and because it involves a rare step outside the telco/IMS domain for Ericsson with WebRTC. (Differentiating it from rivals ALU, Huawei & Nokia Networks, from which I've only heard about IMS use-cases for WebRTC)
  • Apparently, Ericsson's OpenWebRTC also uses Cisco H.264 (thanks Victor!)
[Disclosures - many companies quoted here are Disruptive Analysis clients for research and/or advisory work]

There are plenty of other examples too, but I'm highlighting these to illustrate that the concept is now becoming mainstream, and not just by small developers but also accepted and perpetuated by major players. This is likely to further accelerate market development - and also highlights the need for telcos and enterprise vendors to occasionally swallow their pride and use 3rd-party software or services where it makes sense. Only the very largest and most aggressive companies will be able to develop everything in-house, without using at least one other provider's platform. And for telcos, a vendor IMS box is not, on its own, a complete platform.

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