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Dan Winfield from Voxhub and ITSPA

Dan Winfield, Voxhub and ITSPA

WebRTC (Real-Time Communication) is one of the industry’s latest buzz words, but will it really have much of an impact on our industry and of course our channel? We contacted ITSPA (Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association) to gather their views on the subject and they suggested a chat with Dan Winfield, Managing Director of Served Up Ltd, founder of the Voxhub telephony service and an ITSPA council member. With 20 years’ business and technical experience in Internet service development, Dan spends his days leading the development and delivery of new services and provided us with this guest blog on the subject:

Thanks to my involvement with ITSPA I’ve been asked to provide this guest blog for Entanet on the hot topic of WebRTC. I founded the 10 year old Voxhub telephony service and started one of the UK’s first Internet software companies 20 years ago, building web applications, so WebRTC fits firmly in my area of interest. ITSPA put me forward as a suitable candidate, although I must stress that these are my opinions.  My views are gathered from regular discussion with other ITSPA member companies through my role on the council or at the many member events where we all get the chance to share opinions and understand the impact and opportunities of this type of technology.

What is WebRTC?

Just in case you need it, here’s my quick introduction to WebRTC. It’s a browser based technology that provides the essential components required to build secure network-based user-to-user or peer-to-peer applications that can share media content such as audio, video, documents and messages. It is currently limited to a few browsers, namely Chrome, Firefox and Opera but as the technology develops, you can expect it to propagate further and even move out of the browser into modern mobile style apps.

WebRTC is one of the enabling technologies that I’ve been waiting for, for a very long time. It makes it reasonably straightforward to develop audio and video based applications in a web browser; something that up until now has required plugins. WebRTC provides the opportunity to mix telephony with the web browser based applications the world now uses. Yes, it can provide fantastic all in one page, video, messaging and conference apps that seem to be the fashion amongst the WebRTC start-ups, but the bigger opportunity is adding telephone features that are tightly integrated or ‘peppered’ into existing applications and services.

It often amazes me how separate the Internet and the telephony parts are in the Internet telephony market. Telephones in the majority of businesses sit separate from the wealth of browser and app based services. Apart from IP traffic and the occasional CRM or click to call integration, the two share very little with each other. This makes no sense with the overwhelming majority of office workers spending most of their day looking at web browser based applications that gives them access to customer information, sales, support and other operational applications. This is where WebRTC will fit, bringing people and applications together, blurring the lines between the Internet and telephony.

So, what are the challenges for the channel reseller if WebRTC really plays such an important part?

The first challenge for the reseller will come from cloud providers outside of the traditional telephony market. Some of the big CRM service providers that already have the applications will definitely embrace telephony more in the future, it’s the missing piece from a lot of their offerings. They have control of the browser and can easily bring in WebRTC as an extension to their offerings. Assuming that these providers don’t bundle their own telephony platform, resellers will need to beef up on their investment in technology and ensure they can integrate where they need to. Resellers may also need to adapt how they provide services to be more like the cloud providers, with continuous evolvement and delivery of services. Cloud services tend to maintain user price points and work hard at increasing features over time to combat competition. Resellers tend to sell points in time solutions that don’t include continual improvements as part of the business model.

This brings me to the second challenge. Resellers often excel at selling but, in my opinion, are poor at investing in development of their own technology. WebRTC should be one big reminder that the world of software is re-writing whole industries. That’s not meant to be a threat, it could actually be a great opportunity for those that wish to push forward by developing their own services. My advice? Why wait until someone else develops a service that you can resell? Create something. It will help differentiate you in the market, will increase the value of your business and will make revenues that you have more control over.

The final challenge I see for the reseller will be in their business mind-set. We cannot all have the long term vision of Steve Jobs, but to really make something from technologies like WebRTC it requires ideas and the conviction to see them through. It can take a long time, with many cycles of improvement of code and sales strategy to get things right. Resellers like to make immediate returns on the things they sell and I’m not sure they have the patience to put up with the loss making early stages or identify with the Internet ethos of ‘build it and they will come’. Setting the pricing of new services is also a challenge, at least when reselling services you have a purchase price to guide you. For new services, resellers might need to try various pricing models which might include giving it away to generate increased revenue in sales of existing services.

My final message regarding WebRTC, is that at the moment this is an opportunity for innovation. With no defined products or services in the reseller market, it’s up to the reseller to decide when to move. Waiting until someone else offers a service to resell might be the safe option but it will likely be only a small subset of services that are possible with such a flexible technology.

The good news is that it’s not too late to start. But perhaps starting is the hardest thing to do? If you’re looking for inspiration or just want to delve deeper into what is going on, then it might be worth heading to the ITSPA WebRTC workshop on the 29th of April in London. Contact ITSPA and just say I sent you!

For our reseller partners and ourselves, WebRTC has the potential to bring an array of new opportunities to the VoIP market, with new technologies and applications emerging to take full advantage of this new technology. With that, we must expect an influx of competition which Dan warns is likely to come from existing cloud providers, but quite rightly states this doesn’t necessarily need to be viewed as a threat and could actually bring new working relationships and opportunities for resellers willing to embrace this emerging market. It’s an interesting industry development and one we will be watching closely!

About ITSPA

ITSPA (the Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association) is a UK membership-led organisation that represents companies who offer business and residential customers voice services (VoIP) over data networks as well as other “over the top” applications including instant messaging and video. The membership consists of over 80 companies and is a mixture of network operators, service providers, resellers, suppliers and consultants involved in this increasingly divergent industry. We now represent the vast majority of the industry, which has developed from its nascent stage into a maturing market.

Have your say!

What do you think – is WebRTC the next big thing or just hype? As a VoIP provider should you be worried or excited about the potential opportunities it could bring? Let us know your thoughts and opinion by leaving us a comment below.

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