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March 27, 2013

Code of the Codec: Nokia vs. Google

Nokia has now thrown down the gauntlet and refused to work with the WebRTC community. Google’s cross licensing of VP8 and H.264, which was supposed to end the controversy, has been ignored.  And Nokia seems poised for yet another patent war.

But personally, I think that Google's acquisitions of both On2 Technologies and Motorola. Of course, there is always the possibility that Google could snatch up Nokia at a reduced price, but we could also see either Apple or Microsoft doing the same.

Now what? Are we headed for a prolonged battle that makes Samsung vs. Apple seem minor by comparison?

First, the Good News (Happy Easter?)

For those of us who have been in the VoIP industry for ages, it simply means the SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fouled Up) remains.

At one of the first events I attended in the VoIP space, I heard Craig Weich, then of US West, referring to the codec problem by saying, “Sure, I would like to chat with you Grandma, What Codec do you want to use?”

Today, we’re long past the point where users have to make that choice, and most the clients come with de facto codecs. So this argument is definitely not about the software. It’s about the hardware in your handset and tablet which does the analog-to-digital conversion of your voice.

There’s a long history of  hardware companies providing indemnification for the ITSPs to help them feel safe in developing their services, and it may be that Google ends up doing that as if it was a hardware player (or maybe Motorola could do so, since it is in the hardware business). 

In the end, the impact was that network transcoding became a hot market for session border controllers. We may see that market opportunity reappear.

Now the Bad News (Why do they call it Good Friday?)

The salvo by Nokia takes the wind out of the sails of WebRTC’s VP8 technology being put into hardware anytime soon. It usually takes a little less than two years for algorithms to be converted to chipsets and generally deployed. We’re probably not going to see anything now for at least three years.

H.264 will be the battery efficient way to go, and may make the services of the carriers more popular than over-the-top solutions, which will drain the battery and heat the hand.

It also means there will definitely be a split in development in the community. There will be enough people who see partnering with Google as a safe bet and will develop with them assuming safety. As expressed in previous columns, the startups that think they are Skype (News - Alert) killers will have to rethink their pitch.

A note of caution to the carriers: If you’re going to start providing a service for video and VoLTE or RCS, it would be wise to get something out in the market in the next year. Otherwise, it may be that over-the-top will be strong enough to make it so that carrier voice is just over.

Edited by Braden Becker
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