WebRTC – the New Opportunity in Rich and Real-time Communications

WebRTC – the New Opportunity in Rich and Real-time Communications

As the buzz around WebRTC continues to grow and analysts predict it will ‘revolutionise’ communications, it is now imperative for carriers and enterprises alike to understand what WebRTC is all about and to develop appropriate strategies towards it.

We at Acision believe WebRTC presents many new opportunities but also raises some pretty fundamental questions about the kind of services it will provide in the future and the networks they will be delivered over. Acision’s expertise in WebRTC technology along with its experience in messaging, we are well placed to explain the opportunities as we see them.  Our approach can be summarised as recognising and playing to the strengths of both traditional and OTT (over-the-top) networks and avoiding creation of a hybrid network that is the worst of both worlds.

For those of you not familiar with WebRTC, put simply it is a new technology being adopted by developers that is bringing one-click, real-time, two-way communication to the browser – whether on web or through a mobile app. For example, without leaving a web page or application, a customer can quickly connect to a contact centre agent exactly when they want, creating a seamless experience. This can be done either while they are initially perusing the web, during product / information discovery, while making a decision or purchase or to get any kind of support. 

The promise of WebRTC can bring to any customer-facing business is extremely clear. It is intended to unleash creativity and usher in a new era of ‘democratized’ communications in which application developers take the fore. It allows developers to use an existing and ‘free’ network, the internet, and provides the highest security and quality communication service. It makes video as easy as audio. It is fully integrated within the application or website. Lastly, it’s provided via an API.

So who will provide this API and why will developers use it? It is much easier for a developer to take a third party API and integrate it into their web service or mobile application. Acision (under the forge by Acision brand and called the Acision SDK), have launched APIs to complement WebRTC and provide a complete rich and real-time communications capability for developers. Acision’s unique proposition is to offer the API not only as a cloud service but also as a complete private cloud network installation under the adopters, whether that is an operator or enterprise, full control. This is important if the adopter has specific security requirements, for instance because of regulation in their particular market. The Acision SDK supports a lot of additional capabilities like authentication services, presence, recording, conferencing and additional features to increase secure messaging, and to give developers maximum assistance to develop rich applications.

But before we think about how the API will be used let’s consider some key trends for the current ‘big 3’ carrier services - messaging, voice and video, and then see how WebRTC can be used as part of a strategy going forward.

Firstly messaging - SMS was the first big messaging service and Acision played a pivotal role in its development. Today around 40% of all SMS’s sent worldwide pass through SMSCs provided by Acision.  Juniper Research’s recent Mobile Messaging Markets  agreed with other recent analysts’ that overall SMS traffic will continue to grow beyond 2018, in terms of both volume and revenue. But that headline hides big differences in the revenue make up –A2P SMS revenue will grow fast as enterprises increasingly use it as a channel to engage with customers, relying on the ubiquitous delivery capability of SMS – whereas P2P SMS revenue is plateauing and in some regions in decline, due to increasing competition from OTT players.

In the meantime, as we all know, OTT messaging and communications has grown rapidly, such that OTT messages now outnumber SMS messages by a ratio of 3:1, despite only generating 2% of the revenue. WhatsApp was one of the first and the most successful OTTs – being ubiquitous (linked to the mobile phone number and available across a wide variety of devices) and free. However, we’ve seen other players emerge too of course, like Line and of course Acision’s own OTT service fuseMe. We’ve also seen the emergence of new monetization models, based on games, stickers, emojis and in-app shopping. But all these services are ‘closed’ communities in that (you have to download the app). We see that for most people social messaging OTT is the now the first choice and that SMS is used for business or if the recipient is not reachable that way.

So here we can see both an opportunity and a challenge for operators. For A2P the challenge is that OTT players will muscle in and steal that A2P traffic. But that’s also a big opportunity – by providing both SMS and OTT message delivery operators can make the A2P market their own. For P2P it’s all about reducing costs, exploiting the service and maximising paid traffic. Judicious investment in network efficiency and cost saving technologies like Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) will help with the former and new services like Acision’s ‘Collect SMS’ with the latter.

When we look at trends for voice services a similar pattern emerges - overall volumes are steady, but revenue is declining.   P2P calling is declining fast - this has moved over to social media and OTT messaging. Long distance and international P2P has lost out hugely to OTT VoIP and to Skype in particular. A2P has increased, especially cold calling. Value Added Services such as Freephone have plateaued. The good news for operators is that OTT P2P voice has not taken off to the same extent as messaging. Although VoIP operators cream off a proportion, the calls are still mainly delivered via the telephone network leaving termination revenues in place.

This leads to the next big opportunity –the so-called ‘carrier OTT’. According to Juniper Research mobile network operators will generate revenues of close to $20 billion through strategies involving internet based voice. These Internet voice revenues will be derived from new service propositions and bundles delivered through partnerships with stand-alone OTT service providers”. A typical example is O2’s TuGo app, which allows their subscribers to make and receive calls and texts over WiFi. To address this kind opportunity, fuseMe by Acision has been developed to provide voice and messaging, incorporating a range of monetization features such a channels and games.  It utilises WebRTC and uses the forge by Acision cloud network implemented either in-operator or Acision’s own cloud.

Finally, video. The hope is that video will escape from the current confines of videoconferencing and Skype to become much more ubiquitous. However it’s not likely that P2P video will become ‘the new voice’. Mobile devices are not very suited for sending video of the caller. However we know that ‘see-what-I-see’ is considered useful and there’s no doubt customer service, health consultation, distance learning, technical and product support and so on will benefit hugely from the ability to share video.

Video does have significantly higher costs even when done OTT - particularly HD video. Consumers will likely be unwilling to pay for video in simple social calls. However in the enterprise environment things are different – if the video can help to clinch a sale or shorten the time a call centre agent spends on a call then they will be willing to pay for it. 

So what does all this mean?  For any business, including operators, wanting to adopt WebRTC, it is much better to focus on developing innovative applications which make full use of what WebRTC brings, based on an OTT network which is much more capable, efficient and cost-effective than a heavy-duty network, such as an IMS core. This efficiency will be even more important with the anticipated machine-to-machine (M2M) explosion as the Internet of Things becomes a reality.

One early win for operators and enterprises wishing to get started with WebRTC is the WebRTC-enabled contact centre.  Operators currently providing Freephone services, for example, are well placed to offer click-2-call audio and video access from consumer apps and corporate websites to extend existing enterprise services. Skills-based routing, time-of-day routing etc., can equally be used for WebRTC calls to make a complete cloud call centre solution. Acision has been promoting this solution and won the Best in Show award at the recent WebRTC Expo in Atlanta for a demo of a consumer app showing salesforce integration.

We are also witnessing some innovative brands already experimenting with WebRTC, and getting their toes wet. For example, we are seeing brands develop functionality inside apps and as part of their online presence, by using tools that marry video with social and retail to communicate with customers during a shopping experience. Another group that can benefit greatly from WebRTC comprises those you call consultants or those who have traditionally done business face-to-face from physical locations. While many have built websites, their online destinations tend to be for information only. With the addition of webRTC, they can support video conversations, and thereby move actual business online. . 
Of course, for any business, adding WebRTC services does require some support. Systems need to be secure, integrated with other functions and tools, recordable and so on.  A company like Acision can help do this.

In conclusion, Acision is recommending that to position themselves as communication leaders operators should be offering innovative new services based on WebRTC, while simultaneously maximizing returns from existing networks and services.   This will require partnership with application developers and systems integrators with specific segment knowledge and with external companies having OTT network technology expertise such as Acision. 

For more information about Acision’s WebRTC offering please visit https://forge.acision.com.