Predicting the Future of Communications Technology: OTT, Cloud APIs, WebRTC, and Contextual Communications

March 2, 2016

With peak telephony past in developed economies, many new, powerful players emerging on the scene from the Internet/Cloud IT space and the transitions to Unified Communications and Collaboration changing the way business communications work, the telecom industry is undergoing intense transformation, and 2016, by all accounts, will be a significant year.  Although seeing the future is a tricky business even under less dynamic conditions, a survey of a wide range of predictions for telecom in 2016 has yielded a number of topics of recurring interest:

OTT (Over The Top content, communications)

In the past, the principal dynamic between OTT service providers and telecom was competition.  Telecoms built the network and OTT providers leveraged it for free to build large user bases.  However, as OTT begins to push for effective monetization, analysts are split as to whether the consequences will lead to further conflict or cooperation between the historical competitors.  The former argue that competition will intensify at the expense of traditional telecom as the spread of Unified Communications and commensurate digitization of text and voice (i.e., the trend in communications towards an IP-based rather than traditional telecom infrastructure backbone) facilitates OTT operations.  Mobile network operators in particular will suffer as businesses embrace OTT services for their convenience and familiarity to customers and their networks encounter record volumes, although many mobile operators are already offering ‘metered bandwidth’ in an attempt to pass this cost on to the consumer.  Those who see greater cooperation, however, focus on the saturation of the market of OTT communication service providers.  They argue that OTT needs the competitive edge that traditional operators’ knowledge and familiarity with the market can bring, while traditional telecom will seek collaboration with OTT in order to expand their own services into new areas, including mobile banking and cloud storage.

Building upon this prediction in more detail, some analysts predict that cooperation between OTT and telecom service providers will take the form of expanded service offerings bundled with the traditional voice, text, and data.  In this scenario, branding will play an important role, both in establishing the credibility of OTT services bundled with telecom offerings and, in the other direction, allowing traditional service providers to capitalize on particularly well-known or successful OTTs

Although the jury is still out, I am inclined to think that, barring serious intervention in defense of telecom by national regulators (unlikely in the US at least given the FCC’s now well defined support of Net Neutrality), OTT as a service category will continue to thrive at telecom’s expense even as competition among individual service providers intensifies.  This trend will likely accelerate as OTT partners with or is acquired by the giants of the software/Internet space (consider Microsoft’s Skype for Business), rather than telecoms.

IT and Cloud API:

Similar in some respects to the encounter described above, but ultimately far more significant and wide ranging, is that between the traditional telecom on the one hand and Cloud API (Twilio) and IT service providers (Google, Apple and Microsoft). The conventional view holds that telecoms, challenged by Silicon Valley technology service providers in the voice and messaging markets and wedded to an antiquated, contract-based, voice-centric business model, will be unable to adapt to a new reality in which “expensive, long-term commitments, complicated integrations, little transparency and gaps in service are no longer tolerated [by consumers].”  Indeed, for some analysts, the notion of traditional communications service providers adopting cloud services is a punchline.

Others, however, take a more nuanced view.  They acknowledge that Cloud APIs’ heavy investment in research and development and global resources are creating cloud-based communications capabilities that are rapidly outpacing what can be provided by traditional telecoms.  However, they also note that the regulatory environment (which increasingly reflects public concerns about data privacy) and consumer preference favor local and regional operators, and that the likely scenario going forward is collaboration.  Traditional telecom will act as resellers for managed and infrastructure services provided by global players, who need known, local/regional partners as middlemen.

Still others (this is an old link but a good’un) think that the market is big enough for telecom and Cloud API service providers, with the ideal customers for each differentiated enough to sustain traditional service providers and newcomers, at least for the time being.

WebRTC:

After having spent much of the past half-decade being touted as the ‘next big thing’ for Unified Communications, predictions for WebRTC in 2016 have begun to skew conservative.  Most views hold that the technology will continue along the trajectory described in 2015, that is, steady growth in deployment and incorporation into applications, but no explosion in usage.  More granular predictions describe how this moderate rate of growth in deployment will look, with the key takeaways being completion of WebRTC integration in new browsers (with the notable and significant exception of IE11), consolidation among WebRTC API platforms, and growing use in customer relations management, and particularly in call centers.

Some analysts take a rosier view, however.  Building upon older (and still valid) predictions regarding the growth in WebRTC enabled devices, they argue that the significant amount of money dumped into research in 2015 and plans for further investment in 2016 will bear fruit in the coming year.  Web developers will notice WebRTC’s increasingly broad integration into browsers and will incorporate it into their applications more frequently than in the past.

Contextual Communications:

Although Dean Bubley’s “Communications using contextual data (ie what you’re doing, or inferred/analysed information about the communications session)” remains elusive, at least in the business communications sphere, contextual communications in the sense of time and location feature prominently in a number of predictions.  Many focus on marketing, in particular that companies will be forced, in large part by consumer sophistication, to use mobile data to tailor individual advertisements messages to clients.

The marketing angle dovetails in practice with another trend predicted for 2016: the need for large telecoms to creatively engage with their clients in the face of competition from small, nimble MVNOs who can successfully compete with them as data becomes commodity-priced.  In practice, this will mean analysing customer communications and data usage patterns and providing them with special offers and care messages, a la Facebook, Google or Netflix.  BroadSoft’s Tempo project hints towards what such a product might look like — targeted information for computer workers — albeit coming from the hosted VoIP space and focused on business communications.

Although your humble prognosticator’s sight is limited to 2016, there are much wider ranging and much (much, much) higher level predictions out there.  Head over to hypervoice consortium for a sample of what the far future (e.g., 2025) may bring for communications technology.

Posted Under:VoIP Logic Blog