Speaking with Voxbone on Unified Communications and WebRTC

8 Dec 2014

Voxbone is known for its all-IP telecommunications, providing voice services from the cloud. As part of our series on UCStrategies MAP sponsors and their views on Unified Communications, its future, and the challenges ahead, we spoke with Voxbone's VP of Marketing and Product Management, Dries Plasman.

UCStrategies: What are you most excited about in the UC space?

Plasman: Similar to many professionals in the telecommunications industry, the most exciting event in UC for me this year has been the "birth" of the WebRTC ecosystem. Until last year, WebRTC was just a new toy for geeks. This year, however, many companies in the communications industry have become involved, and reasonably so. WebRTC has the potential to be disruptive. It allows people and enterprises to connect with each other in real-time using voice or video without having to rely on a telecommunications company or being on the same OTT network. To date, over 500 technology companies and service providers - including some of the industry's most reputable players - have joined the WebRTC ecosystem. Thus, it is clear: WebRTC is here to stay.

Dries Plasman
Dries Plasman

UCStrategies: What's the biggest challenge the UC industry faces?

Plasman: UC has evolved significantly within the enterprise. Just five years ago, people used only phone and email to communicate with colleagues (plus Skype if the IT security department turned a blind eye). Today, many enterprises have added UC solutions to their PBX, or have replaced their PBX with an all-in-one UC platform. As a result, Presence and IM have become common in many enterprises, and the usage of video calling and ad hoc multi-media conferencing is on the rise. A recent study by Wainhouse Research shows that although Cisco is gaining ground, Microsoft maintains its dominance in deployed UC solutions. Yet, for all-in-one UC platforms integrating the enterprise PBX, although Cisco still leads the market, Microsoft is quickly catching up.


However, today's UC solutions more or less stop at the border of an enterprise's private network. Which means that unless you use another OTT service (e.g. Logmein, Bluejeans, Skype), you cannot chat or have a video call with someone on a different enterprise network, or with someone that is using a different cloud communications provider.

Microsoft actually provides a solution for this, which it calls "Federation." However, this only works between enterprises that use Microsoft Lync (now called Skype for Business) and IT departments that have agreed to federate. For other enterprises who want to connect with each other, there is only the telephone network ("the PSTN"), which limits communication methods to narrow band voice and text messaging. But today it is the only communication network available that federates the entire world.

UCStrategies: If you could give current or potential UC customers one piece of advice, what would it be?

Plasman: Don't wait to start experimenting with WebRTC.

However, be aware of its current development state. Just as with any new technology being introduced to an existing ecosystem, WebRTC has several challenges associated with it today. These include (but are not limited to) browser support, codec limitations, and compatibility with legacy systems. In addition to these challenges, WebRTC also has inherent limitations. WebRTC is a framework that enables Real Time Communications in the browser, but it does not handle routing and addressing. As a result, when it comes to person-to-person calling, WebRTC will not replace the telephone network. But, of course, telecommunications is not just about person-to-person calling. Specifically within the enterprise, there are several use cases where WebRTC currently has the capacity to add tremendous value by enriching business processes.

Given the above-mentioned barriers, however, it is not surprising that some companies are choosing not to implement WebRTC yet. However, these companies should be aware that there will be competitors and startups making the decision to embrace WebRTC and reap its benefits before they do.

UCStrategies: What do you think the UC industry needs in order to reach the next level?

Plasman: The best thing that could happen to the UC industry is an "upgrade" of the PSTN to support multi-media communications. Realistically speaking, this will not happen in the foreseeable future. As I discussed in a recent blog post, even the most basic addition to the PSTN - the support of HD voice codecs - will take years to happen.

Another development that would allow the UC industry to advance is if industry giants Apple, Microsoft and Google end their strategic war games around WebRTC. As a result of this behavior, WebRTC still faces some critical barriers. To name a few: WebRTC is only supported by half of the browsers we use today; video codec H.264 is not supported in Chrome, while Google's favorite video codec, VP8, is not supported in the vast majority of video conferencing and communications platforms. If all three would be a bit more "collaborative," they could turn WebRTC into a revolutionary technology, instead of the evolutionary technology it is today.

UCStrategies: Have you seen UC products and solutions used in interesting ways not originally expected or intended?

Plasman: Yes, just take a look at Amazon Mayday! The feature was introduced last year, but this year we are seeing shared figures and user experiences, and the results are stunning. Seventy-five percent of support requests on Amazon Kindle are made using the Mayday button. Since those calls benefit from taking place over the AWS global IP backbone, it appears to be good quality. Although it is still uncertain if Mayday actually uses WebRTC, it is safe to say that it is "WebRTC-like." Live video support is one of the best use cases of WebRTC, and is applicable immediately. The experience of actually seeing the customer service agent speaking and listening greatly enhances the support experience, contributing to customer loyalty. At Voxbone, we believe that live video support will grow rapidly in the next five years, and WebRTC will be the technology of choice. In fact, we recently published a white paper on the best use cases of WebRTC in the enterprise, and live video support is one of them.

UCStrategies: How do you view the impact of millennials on the UC industry?

Plasman: Millennials are the first generation to heavily and consistently use OTT applications. They can't imagine a life without Skype, FaceTime or Viber. As a result, many traditional telecommunications providers are seeing their voice minutes and text messages declining at a rapid pace. This trend will also affect the residential market, and in 5-10 years, the majority of residential voice minutes and text messages will have been replaced by OTT calling. Having several OTT apps with friends and contacts distributed throughout the different apps will become the norm.

Since millennials use OTT apps like Presence, IM, and video so frequently in their private life, they expect to use it in their professional life as well. As the push for adding UC to enterprise communications increases, the push to upgrade or replace the PSTN to support IM, HD voice and video communications will also rise. In all likelihood, though, this will still take at least 5-10 years.

UCStrategies: How has UC impacted the way you personally work and get your job done?

Plasman: As Voxbone continues to grow at very fast pace, with customers in over 100 countries, we are adding offices in key business areas. For example, we opened a new office in London this year. This means that I have colleagues all over the world, whom I rarely meet in person.

Voxbone has invested a lot of time and effort in internal communications to preserve cohesion between colleagues from different countries, and to share a common corporate culture. But what keeps us together the most is UC, as it lets us easily meet each other and collaborate virtually, whenever we need or want to.

From Plasman's responses, we can see the growing importance of WebRTC, and the impact of quick, easy, and high-quality communications on companies and users alike. For more information on Voxbone and its services, visit www.voxbone.com.



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