Spare a thought for the telcos – they’ve had a hard couple of years fighting off VoIP vendors such as Microsoft’s Skype and New York-based Viber, which use the telcos’ networks while directly competing with their services. Now a new player has arrived, and it’s going to challenge both the telcos and the VoIP vendors. It’s called WebRTC.
WebRTC is a technology that lets developers build real-time communication into web pages. While it’s going to affect the telcos, it’s actually the VoIP vendors who now face the real danger, because it brings down the VoIP players’ protective subscription walls. (For example, Skype users can only talk with other Skype users for free).
WebRTC offers a lot of interesting use cases, but they essentially boil down to five:
1. Friends and family calls to people we know. Today VoIP vendors are finding it easy to supplant telcos in this market, where the phone number and address book are replaced with a buddy list and presence indications.
2. Consumer to business calls. In most cases, these calls require a phone number, and as such, pass through a telco’s voice network. VoIP players don’t have large presence in this space, since it requires the ubiquity and openness of a telco voice service.
3. Business to consumer calls. Whether it’s a call from the kindergarden telling you your child isn’t feeling well, or a telemarketer trying to sell a magazine subscription, these calls again go to the telco’s phone numbering system.
4. Within a business organization. Telcos and VoIPs both still have a foot in this market.
5. Business partners. Calls between organizations tend to take place on a telco’s network. VoIP players usually don’t allow calling outside the boundary of their own user base unless that call is routed to a telco for their own monetization purposes.
Right now, most of a VoIP player’s users and calls comes from the user’s close contacts: friends and family. These are also the people the user is most likely to interact with on social networks. And while players like Skype rely on people having to download the application first in order to use the service, social networks live natively in the web.
Now that WebRTC has arrived, will VoIP players be the ones adopting it wholeheartedly, or will social networks be first to integrate it into their services?
Put simply: How much will Skype be hurting when Facebook comes up with its own video chat service, based on WebRTC?
Skype’s main asset is the large user base already using it for voice and video communications, with 700 million voice and video minutes a day spent by 65 million users who sign in to the service daily.
On the other hand, people spend over 13 billion minutes a day on Facebook (that’s 7:45 hours a month per person with over 900 million monthly active users).
Which smartphone app is more popular? Facebook has both its main Facebook app and Facebook Messenger app (a direct contender to Skype text chatting) ahead of Skype’s app on the iTunes Charts (29 and 35 in comparison to Skype’s number 52 spot in August 2012). On Google Play’s top Free list, Facebook takes first place while Skype is in seventh.
While Skype is smaller than Facebook, its sole focus is real-time communications. It knows the market and the technology better. The only problem is that today it is almost considered an incumbent player and not a market disruptor. It has been slow to introduce new features and capabilities in the past year or two, while Facebook has been evolving and growing almost on a daily basis.
Facebook’s popularity and positioning is bound to give it a head start in changing users’ behavior – we are already used to sharing on Facebook. A lot of us are texting each other through Facebook’s messaging capabilities, so voice and video chatting isn’t far fetched.
From there, offering a Facebook-Out service, click-to-call ads, or a solution that enables people to interact with companies through their pages on Facebook isn’t such a massive step – and critically, it allows Facebook to monetize such a solution.
So if Facebook decides to go it alone with real-time communications and integrate WebRTC into its social network infrastructure, where would that leave Skype? Michelle Maisto on eWeek is right: Facebook could be a Skype killer.
Tsahi Levent-Levi has almost 15 years of experience in the telecommunications, VoIP, and 3G industry as an engineer, manager, marketer, and CTO. He is currently Director of Business Solutions at Amdocs and is responsible for focusing on new and innovative ways carriers can bring value and relevance to their customers. He is a frequent industry blogger on Amdocs Voices, as well as his own blog: BlogGeek.me.