WebRTC Expert Feature

February 22, 2013

RCS and WebRTC: Dual Threats to OTT Ecosystem

Expect plenty of talk about Rich Communications Services (RCS) and WebRTC at Mobile World Congress (MWC) next week.   The two technologies pose different threats to the over-the-top (OTT) world of clients and services, but both together have the potential to take a good chunk out of the confusing, "Me Skype Too" world of players around the world.

SK Telecom will have a lot to say about RCS at MWC. The company signed up one million subscribers to its RCS joyn.T service just 50 days after its launch. In the highly competitive, LTE-loving country of South Korea, SK Telecom says customers have embraced the service because of its free text messaging and integrated instant messaging feature.

GSMA, holder and promoter of the global RCS joyn brand, says the deployment is a case of "successful commercialization" and expects other carriers and handset manufacturers around the world to accelerate the deployment of joyn based on what SK Telecom has demonstrated.

SK Telecom has been constantly upgrading its joyn.T service through system optimization, server expansion, and customer feedback. It is now offering unlimited, free-for-life joyn.T SMS/IMS services to its smartphone subscribers on flat rate plans, as well as making those messages "free" by not counting them against customer data caps. (Although, I suspect the latter may be just a matter of simplified accounting, since 132 characters for a text message is noise in a 50 MB to 300 MB data plan -- even if you do a lot of texting). In addition, joyn.T users can easily send text messages to phones without joyn.T apps, including feature phones.

The joyn.T offering will be developed into what SK Telecom is calling a "comprehensive communications service," linking it to its HD Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service. SK Telecom plans to embed HD voice (i.e., VoLTE) in all of its LTE-capable smartphones to be released from March onward, more customers will be able to get an "enriched" communications experience by being able to share video and files during an LTE call.

Other enhancements to joyn.T will include open APIs to enable the development of services such as games and mobile commerce, a development that will likely cause discomfort among OTT players who have been reluctant to provide programming "hooks" for third-party services.

WebRTC will also be in conversations at MWC because the die-hard open-source and programming community loves the idea of integrating voice and video directly and seamlessly into the browser. Every third conversation I had ITEXPO in Miami touched or had something to do with WebRTC. 

Applications service providers see WebRTC as a great way to tie in new services, especially since there's work going on to build bridges between RCS and WebRTC, giving RCS new reach beyond a mobile phone app onto the "traditional" PC desktop. Write-once, run-anywhere applications become a whole lot easier if you can develop them in RCS and then pull them up in a WebRTC-enabled browser.

The bigger picture here is that OTT players are going to find themselves displaced by a combination of carrier supported and promoted services in RCS -- because at the end of the day, carriers want to have a large number of customer relationships  -- and WebRTC providing a one-stop shop for developing third-party apps that can tie into third-party services in ways we can't yet imagine.

Once the smoke clears a decade from now, I expect the only survivor to be Microsoft's Skype, but that's only because Microsoft is rolling Skype into all of its core communications applications.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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