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June 23, 2014

Is WebRTC the Mobile Provider's New Best Weapon Against OTT?

The changes inherent in the telecommunications markets have generated some seemingly basic truths about overall operations. We've seen this previously with cable operators and fixed telecom firms, and we're starting to see it again with mobile carriers as well. The issue faced by both sides of that equation is proving to be roughly the same, as both cable operators / fixed telecoms and mobile carriers are starting to encounter the same issue: the issue of over-the-top (OTT) services stepping up in terms of quality and overall capability, producing an end result that could end up pulling a lot of business away from the field. But reports suggest that, with the proper application of Web-based real time communications (WebRTC), OTT may not have so much of an advantage after all.

With connectivity seeming to improve across all sides of the spectrum—fiber connections for the fixed line crowd as expressed by things like Google Fiber and 4G LTE connections for the mobile crowd—OTT services are actually getting a lot better and more valuable for the user. Skype and Viber, for example, are particularly improving and in turn threatening mobile's market for long distance and international calling. WhatsApp nearly destroyed the SMS market back in the 3G era, by some reports, so seeing OTT once again take a run at a valuable market isn't much of a surprise at all.

Carriers' attempts to beat these OTT services have proven less than effective, mainly because of a “walled garden” kind of release strategy. After all, it's easy to note, the carriers' versions tended to use proprietary systems in the construction, and thus make it difficult to contact those outside of the network in question. But WebRTC, meanwhile, opens the system up to a staggering degree, not only allowing for contact outside the network, but not even requiring a specific app beyond a standard Web browser to put into play. Carriers can thus quickly integrate WebRTC into current services.

But while WebRTC has the potential to beat OTT back, it's going to take some work. At least a majority of mobile operators are going to need to get in on those open standards and keep those standards open. Without the open standards, that same “walled garden” effect will slip back into place, and the end result will be the same thing, pretty much, as if WebRTC had never really started up. Plus, 4G mobile connections will need to carry on, as 4G is still something of a minority, at last report. But with growth there, the necessary bandwidth to fuel WebRTC's voice and video capability should prove helpful.

Basically, to fend off the growing threat of OTT development, mobile devices will have to offer more value, and more connectivity, to keep people from going outside of the mobile device's own offerings. But this is likely to prove difficult; the temptation to create a system that only operates within the network in a bid to provide a competitive advantage will be strong, and networks must be prepared for such an eventuality accordingly.

However, if firms can realize the value in leaving the standards open, then it may well be that the firms could have found a way to fend off the growth of the OTT service. Naturally, only time will tell just how it all boils down, but we may well be looking at a real fight in the near term future, and a fight that the carriers may actually win out on for a change.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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