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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Will more network/IT vendors launch their own WebRTC PaaS?

One of the most vibrant domains within WebRTC is that of "platform as a service", PaaS. There are numerous providers of cloud infrastructure, mobile SDKs and ancillary services that allow developers to embed WebRTC functions more easily than using "raw" JavaScript. Tokbox, Temasys, Twilio, acquired players AddLive and Requestec, telcos like AT&T and NTT and so on. 

There is a particular need for PaaS to support mobile devices which use WebRTC in apps rather than browsers (eg with iOS SDKs), or where specialised cloud functions are needed, such as video-mixing. They also appeal to developers unable to cope with complex or clunky aspects of WebRTC, such as the much-derided SDP protocol for connection setup.

But one emerging category I'm seeing is slightly different - it's where technology vendors are launching their own PaaS propositions, reaching out directly to developers with hosted platforms, rather than attempting to sell gateways or SBCs or media servers as products.

The most prominent examples are:
  • GenBand's Kandy platform
  • Acision's Forge SDK & PaaS [itself based on the acquired Crocodile platform]
  • Intel's investment into CafeX
  • Digium's Respoke
  • (Primarily a virtualised IMS PaaS, Metaswitch Clearwater also offers some cloud-based WebRTC gateway capabilities)
What differentiates these from the various other client SDKs is that they are moves by "product" companies into the "service" arena, with subscription or pay-per-use business models. That runs counter to the normal vendor model of upfront product license + maintenance/support contract.

Now clearly, in other parts of the technology industry that transition is fairly common - the large network vendors like Ericsson, Huawei and ALU all make large sums from "managed services" contracts for radio networks or other bits of telco infrastructure. Cisco owns WebEx for conference services, while many mainstream software companies have transitioned to SaaS/PaaS offers for business users.

Yet it is one thing selling a "cloud" or outsourced version of a product to your existing customers (telcos or enterprises) as a service - but quite another trying to derive revenues from an entirely new audience of web or application developers. Clearly, this in an attractive idea - but it doesn't mean that it's easy to achieve in reality.

In WebRTC, it is instructive to consider which vendors are not offering PaaS propositions to developers - it includes most of the main gateway or media-server providers. While Oracle, Ericsson, Sonus, Dialogic, HP, Broadsoft, ALU et al might offer client-side SDKs, they are not offering hosted, subscription-based platforms for WebRTC developers at present. (Notably, all the previous product/service crossover vendors above also sell gateways or provide SDKs on a "product" basis, too).

My belief is that the others do not, for the most part, want to take the upfront risks of setting up infrastructures and billing systems for PaaS (especially internationally), nor incur the marketing overhead of reaching the "long tail" of developers. Not only is there a lot of competition here (with services firms having existing customers, or specialised capabilities), but there would be a risk of channel conflict if (for example) they ended up competing vs. firms that themselves are launching PaaS services, but which are also customers for core-network infrastructure or SBCs. 

For telco-facing vendors, I don't expect to see too many more launching WebRTC-based PaaS platforms, unless either (a) it ties into a much bigger NFV/SDN strategy offering telco infrastructure on a managed-service basis, or (b) it's a completely separate, rebranded initiative like Kandy, primarily targeting enterprise software ISVs. Broadsoft's Labs arm is offering an "incubation environment" for developers, but it's not the same as a full PaaS.

On the enterprise side, I can see Cisco, Avaya, Unify and others increasingly offering API access to their own cloud-based UCaaS offers. However, I'm not expecting them to offer subscription-based WebRTC gateway functionality or similar propositions aligned with Respoke. Notably, Voxeo split off its PaaS business (Tropo, formerly Voxeo Labs), before being acquired by Aspect. The deal that Avaya has done with Google for hosted contact centres & Chromebooks is a step in this direction, but isn't really a formal PaaS. It also has a platform called the "Collaboratory" which seems similar in principle to Broadsoft Labs - ie a "PaaS for prototypes" rather than a "production PaaS".

All that said, there may be some future acquisition opportunities and disruptions here over time. I could perhaps believe a major vendor might try its luck acquiring Twilio or Temasys or CafeX or another cloud player, perhaps seeing it as a way to start generating more recurring revenues, and higher-margin services. However, such actions are perhaps more likely to come from the IT side of the industry (IBM? Microsoft? Google?) than network vendors.

For now, I think the vendor/PaaS crossover phenomenon is a relatively rare one - I suspect many others will just watch from the sidelines to assess whether any of the existing batch start getting notable traction and growth, or else they might go down the route of offering selected partners a "prototyping environment" rather than a full pay-by-credit-card cloud offer.


Tsahi Levent-Levi said...


Having my background in a company that sold tools for developers in the form of SDKs, and equipment to service providers and for on premise consumption - I can say that the migration from on-premise/SDK proposition towards PaaS is the only reasonable move. It is hard to survive and thrive otherwise, as the business models, expectations and target customers are looking for PaaS solutions and expect getting SDKs as free/open source/low cost offerings.

Not all PaaS are born equal, and some don't event target the long tail.

I believe we will see additional players in the WebRTC PaaS domain this year. There are a few candidates who are veering towards that space. How many of them will survive is the interesting question

Dean Bubley said...

Hi Tsahi

I think it will depend by sector.

I'm not convinced that it would make much sense for ALU to do a WebRTC PaaS, for example.

I can imagine other vendors doing "thin slices" - transcoding-aaS, maybe hosted STUN/TURN etc.

For other vendors, they are unlikely to be able to do all the moving parts, eg mobile SDKs. In that case, I think partnering with other integrators or PaaS providers makes more sense.

Anton said...

Interesting post Dean. I agree most of the network vendors aren't going to provide a WebRTC PaaS but some of them have special licensing conditions for partners interested in run this type of service... but I am not seeing too many interest in it: it's a big investment and the ROI isn't clear.

A different move is to offer the product as a service to CSPs, that's something we are seeing in the B/OSS space and it could make sense also for WebRTC platforms.

Kevin Mitchell said...

WebRTC PaaS is a cousin to the cloud voice platform (although generally aimed at app developers/enterprise IT vs the CVP specifically built for service provider VoIP solutions).

The cloud model is needed here especially as WebRTC-powered communications are largely a non-monetized form of voice communications (i.e., it may drive revenue elsewhere, not the usage of it is not producing revenue and may all be cost). Examples include customer support and driving product sales via video chat Q&A.

This trend of vendors launching WebRTC PaaS will and does extended to CVP. There is BroadSoft BroadCloud and Genband Nuvia. Who’s next?

At Alianza we believe this will be the mainstream VoIP is delivered and managed by service providers overtime.

It's a way to get to NFV VoIP now and it's an evolutionary leap past the old school white label "me too" solutions.