With the rise of WebRTC and the Internet of Things (IoT), the way the world communicates is changing dramatically. This ‘webification’ of communications gives rise to the question of what this means for the future of the traditional telco – is the demise of operators now inevitable or can they find an opportunity to claim their slice of what is set to be a very lucrative pie?
WebRTC and IoT today
Heralded by some operators as the most powerful communications tool to date, enthusiasm for WebRTC has grown quickly. Allowing real-time voice and video communications directly through a web browser and eliminating the need for software downloads or plug-ins, WebRTC is most commonly associated with web browsers, and OTT players have been quick to jump on the trend.
As a result, communications has transformed from a telecoms service into an application component within a service, opening up the possibility of embedding WebRTC into verticals such as gaming, eHealth, or even IoT, another trend which is taking the telecoms industry by storm.
IoT refers to all devices – from washing machines and fridges to cars and medical devices – that are connected to the Internet. Like WebRTC, IoT has already begun creating opportunities for developers to change the way people interact with each other and the technology they use, both in the home and business environments.
New assault or golden opportunity?
In terms of how these new technologies will impact on telcos, much debate still exists around the subject. Traditionally, WebRTC was seen by many as a new threat to revenue, just as they were getting over the assault inflicted by the rise of OTT services.
The initial caution from operators is understandable to a point. WebRTC was developed by people who are not a part of the telco environment so exploitation by the OTTs is inevitable.
Furthermore, WebRTC enables the decoupling of communications from operators due to a number of use cases where communications can take place over the top or within silos or closed environments.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that telcos are destined to be a redundant piece of the jigsaw. The reality of the situation is the exact opposite – if operators can act quickly and smartly, they are actually ideally positioned to take advantage of this opportunity thanks to their huge assets in terms of customer base and ability to enable interoperability between the legacy and OTT environment.
How can telcos lead the way?
The question, then, is how do telcos ensure they have a primary role to play in this new ‘webified’ world?
In order to fully answer this question, there are two strands which operators must consider. The first is what is the most valuable, and therefore most lucrative, service they can offer? While some might be tempted to launch their own WebRTC services, providing access to the network to enable the gateway between OTT applications and the legacy network would be a far more worthwhile service – and one that only operators can provide.
In the pure WebRTC environment, for example, if TripAdvisor were to launch an application which enabled visitors to communicate with restaurants or hotels, operators could provide the key to expanding this application so that when consumers make their enquiries through the web, it can be received by restaurants/hotels even when they are not online, for example via phone, thanks to the operator’s bridging of the networks.
Meanwhile, in the IoT or Machine-to-Machine (M2M) scenarios there are opportunities around data processing, assisting people that operate machines and even Smart Glasses where, for example, employees in a stock environment could use the glasses to interact with a guide, making operations more efficient and streamlined.
The second thing which operators need to embrace in order to succeed in this area is software. For the vision of IoT and an entirely connected world to be realised, legacy hardware must be done away with and replaced with software.
This will make networks more agile and enable services to be controlled and adapted without changing the physical layer. This software must be future-proof and lower the cost of future change, with the ability to adapt now being a crucial key performance indicator for telcos.
Providing the gateway between applications and legacy networks is a role that only telcos can fill, creating a clear map of the path they should take as the journey to a completely connected, interoperable world continues. The convergence of WebRTC and IoT certainly holds interesting opportunities for telcos – as long as they can act quick and think smart.
Moving from exploitation to exploration requires a dramatic cultural change, with the ability to develop communication ecosystems and the identification of the reusable assets constituting an appealing accelerator in the transformation towards the digitalised world.
Sourced from Federico Descalzo, VP and Chief Marketing Technology Officer, Italtel