A question that has been coming up more and more in the telco space is how WebRTC compares to voice over LTE (News - Alert), and which technology will win. Embedded into this question is an assumption about phone calls, similar to how Skype is eating away at regular landline minutes. Since you can make point-to-point phone calls with WebRTC, and since browsers are part of smartphones, then the assumption is that people will make WebRTC phone calls instead of LTE phone calls. In other words, over-the-top will win out again.
I do not necessarily see things through that lens. In my opinion, WebRTC is a way for voice and video to be integrated into communications applications, and that is really its ultimate power. Sure, you can make a WebRTC point-to-point VoIP call, which would technically compete with a VoLTE call, but WebRTC really comes down to the apps. So a more appropriate battle, so to speak, would be WebRTC vs. Rich Communication Suite (News - Alert).
Let’s talk about WebRTC vs.VoLTE first. An offering by the carrier to the subscriber would include VoLTE as part of the voice (and video) package. Therefore, the subscriber may not even know (or care for that matter) that he or she is using VoLTE. If the 2014 numbers are any indication, VoLTE rollouts are gaining major momentum. As carrier networks move more and more toward IMS, VoLTE is becoming the preferred method of voice and video calls and the de-facto method for carriers that use LTE networks. Whether the move to IMS is because the network architectures are moving to IP, or because the next-generation network equipment is getting old and needs to be replaced, or some combination thereof, doesn’t really matter. The fact is that IMS infrastructure is going in, and VoLTE is gaining traction.
Keep in mind that one huge advantage the carriers have over OTT players is built-in customers that will receive basic VoLTE service as part of their subscriber packages. VoLTE will also wield tight quality of service requirements. The subscriber is left with a choice between the basic voice service with VoLTE and the OTT voice play, which will be subject to the vagaries of mobile Internet bandwidth. In the end, you get what you pay for. If it’s free, to whom are you going to complain? The carriers ultimately need to offer true flexibility and differentiation to cater to a range of customer needs. On a phone call, the added value of VoLTE would be noticeable, which inherently makes it something people would pay for.
However, as I stated above, it’s not really about the point-to-point phone call with WebRTC. It’s about value-added services and applications – and carriers can get in on the action too. WebRTC can be used by carriers to offer their own OTT voice or video apps and integrate voice, video, and data into a web surfing experience. Likewise, the OTT app providers themselves can use WebRTC in the same way. This is way beyond a point-to-point voice or video call, as I said.
If you want to look at it in a WebRTC vs. IMS/VoLTE way, WebRTC would really compete with RCS because, as I said above, this is all about apps. WebRTC could not only enable the carriers to offer their own apps more easily but really different kinds of integrated value-added apps. A service provider could easily offer WebRTC-enabled conferencing with a simple url. The carriers could also offer services to enterprises, for instance, so now enterprise offerings could include different kinds of more tailored apps. The GSMA (News - Alert) is starting to look into WebRTC and initiating working groups to incorporate WebRTC into the IMS network. This is how VoLTE will thrive alongside WebRTC, rather than compete against it.
Because WebRTC is built into the browser, we will ultimately see a lot of apps that incorporate voice and video as elements of a larger communications application. That’s where I see the ultimate benefit of WebRTC. We will see people talking to one another as part of a communications app, not as the only function of the application.
Jim Machi is vice president of product management at Dialogic (News - Alert) Inc. (www.dialogic.com).
Edited by Maurice Nagle