Published: 21/03/2016
Author: Greg Collins

Originally published on No Jitter on March 21, 2016

WebRTC is becoming an important technology for operators and enterprises as they address the trend toward app-driven communication and collaboration.

WebRTC, and the network elements that support the technology, are poised for tremendous growth in the coming years. WebRTC is not as much of a standalone technology or service, but rather it is a key building block for another major trend in communications, embedded or contextual communications.

Competitive Backdrop

Exact Ventures has recently increased our forecast for WebRTC gateway revenues based on the continued maturation of the standards work and increased competitive imperative among service providers and enterprises. The heightened competitive threat is coming from over-the-top (OTT) service providers that are increasingly developing features and targeting business markets that have long been the domain of the traditional wireline and wireless service providers. OTT collaboration services like Slack, Atlassian’s HipChat, and Glip by RingCentral have triggered competitive responses such as Cisco’s Spark, Unify’s Circuit, and Mitel’s MiCollab — all targeting this market and all employing WebRTC. Even traditionally consumer-focused Web properties like Facebook and WhatsApp are looking to expand their presences in business-to-consumer (B2C) communications.

Messaging and other social media applications are becoming the focal point for the communications experience, not the dialer app. Often users can access voice and video communications functionality, as well as other functions like payments, photos, location, and transportation, through the messaging app. For example, Facebook recently integrated Uber (and soon Lyft) into its Messenger application. And Facebook’s Businesses for Messenger will direct users from a business’s website to the business’s Facebook Messenger account.

For mobile operators, WebRTC and enhanced messaging (via Rich Communications Services) are becoming more and more important for keeping the mobile phone number as the basis of a person’s primary identity. Meantime, OTT service providers are pushing to make their user identity systems the basis for communications. OTT relies on advertising as the key monetization tool, while mobile and wireline operators are reliant on subscription fees.

WebRTC gateways are network elements that help WebRTC-based sessions communicate and interoperate with sessions and network elements using SIP, the prevailing VoIP protocol in enterprises and operator IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) networks. We forecast that the market for WebRTC gateways and associated service revenues will reach $900 million in 2020, growing by an average of 82% per year.

Use Cases for WebRTC
With WebRTC and via SIM cards, mobile operators can extend their services to devices that are not registered on their networks. By logging into a mobile operator’s WebRTC-enabled portal, a user could direct all of his or her incoming voice, messaging, and application traffic to a Web portal. The user could then access that Web portal through a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet accessing the network via WiFi, or even through a flat-screen television or wearable device.

By extending their services and user identities (i.e., phone numbers) across platforms, mobile operators can create “stickier” services, thereby helping to stave off the erosion of voice and messaging traffic (and revenue) to OTT providers like Microsoft with Skype, WhatsApp, and Apple with iMessage. This, in turn, will lead not only to reduced customer churn, but also to upsell opportunities as subscribers seek larger data plans. AT&T’s Enhanced WebRTC API is a prime example of such a service.

WebRTC will also have a strong impact on enterprise and contact center communications. WebRTC, with its browser-based, real-time voice and video capabilities, can drastically change the landscape of the enterprise and small and medium business unified communications market. While WebRTC services will initially be an overlay service to existing UC systems, by having a portal-based communications platform based on WebRTC, enterprises can begin to more actively decommission desk phones and certain video conferencing phones. Moreover, WebRTC endpoints can help hasten the migration from premises-based PBX and UC systems to cloud or hosted UC services with WebRTC endpoints.

Contact centers represent a strong potential market for WebRTC-based services because people are increasingly using the Web to access customer support information, rather than turning to the Yellow Pages (phone directory) or their existing bills. Customers would find an easier time of accessing real-time interactive customer support services directly through their Web browsers with voice, messaging, and video chat applications. A WebRTC-based service would be an instant direct connection between the consumer and the business, and could decrease time to resolution, lowering customer support costs and increasing customer satisfaction and retention.

Contact center agents could push video directly to consumers who might have questions about how a product or feature works. They could share documents that would help customers solve their problems and feel empowered. Since the customer support is browser-based, it can extend across a variety of platforms: desktop, tablet, or smartphone.

Many vendors and operators have developed contact center and customer service applications based on WebRTC. For example, LiveOps offers a cloud-based WebRTC-based solution with zero on-premises equipment and Amazon’s Mayday feature on its Kindle tablets allows users to launch video chats with support representatives. Zendesk and Freshdesk also introduced WebRTC functionality in 2015.

In summary, WebRTC is becoming an important technology for operators and enterprises to address the trend toward app-driven communication and collaboration and to address the competitive threat of OTT and social media properties beginning to address the B2C communication services market. WebRTC gateways, which help WebRTC communicate with SIP, the prevailing VoIP protocol in enterprises and operator IMS network,s are due to become key network elements in the coming years.

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