By Tammy Parker
Mobile operators' ongoing battle against over-the-top service providers has a new battleground in the enterprise videoconferencing realm, where vendors are working to prove that not only are reliability and quality of service the domains of mobile network operators, but that operators can leverage those advantages to rake in revenues.
It's no secret that the early beneficiaries of advanced data functionality on mobile networks and devices are OTT services and content providers, said Ray Adensamer, senior product marketing manager at Radisys. Mobile operators need to be able to sell more than just data plans, and they can win back high-margin services business by offering services such as videoconferencing, video ringbacks, video advertising, video streaming, videomail, and interactive voice and video response, he said.
As third-party VoIP and SMS providers cut into operators' core communications services business, operators are recognizing that they need to copy their OTT rivals. Key to this effort is the integration of technologies such as IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).
"If carriers want to compete with (OTT providers), they need to step up to a similar delivery method," meaning IP communications, which enables operators to deliver richer, real-time communications to their customers via multiple platforms and incongruent devices, said Bud Walder, product marketing director at Dialogic.
Walder contends mobile operators can gain the upper-hand when it comes to critical business communications because they can offer a higher class of service by managing the data center, application servers and media servers as well as delivering the client apps.
OTT "is always going to be best effort. You're competing with any other data that's being streamed either way," he said. "Once carriers take control and say, 'This is our application running on our network,' they can prioritize the traffic and they can treat it as a real-time communications service as opposed to a best-effort, over-the-top service competing with every other piece of data."
Popular OTT communications services such as Skype, Google (NASDAQ:AAPL) Talk, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Link or even Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) FaceTime "are different islands of connectivity," said Adensamer, noting they require compatible clients on each end. "That's where the operator has an advantage. The vision of IMS is to bring all of these different islands together--force that compatibility so that a video call 10 years from now is as ubiquitous as voice call today."
Showing how it's done
Both Radisys and Dialogic conducted IP-based videoconferencing demos at CTIA's Wireless 2012 convention in May.
Radisys' demo employed its MPX-12000 broadband media processing solution for LTE IMS. Radisys announced just before CTIA that it would integrate the CounterPath Bria desktop and mobile SIP-based softphone applications with the MPX-12000 broadband Multimedia Resource Function (MRF) for mobile video services. The demo was "about delivering video conferencing, video services and how it's going to help mobile operators make more money," said Adensamer.
Radisys' demo included H.264 switched video conferencing with an iPhone, iPad 2 and laptop joined in a single conference; H.264 IVVR iPad 2 dialing into a video call center; H.263 continuous presence with a four-way videoconference with announcements; and H.264 video ringback.
Slide courtesy of Radisys
Dialogic's demo featured its PowerMedia software. The demo showed videoconferencing with local and remote callers using an LTE-connected laptop, an Android smartphone, LTE-equipped iPad, Samsung LTE tablet and a wired workstation. Client software used in the demo included Counterpath Bria, Polycom RealPresence and Microsoft Lync.
Dialogic's videoconference was enabled as an OTT service over Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) LTE network. "We just subscribe to Verizon. We didn't do any other type of negotiation with them or service-level agreement," said Walder.
Though Dialogic's demo essentially proved how easy it is to set up a videoconference as an OTT service over a live LTE network, Walder said the company's aim was to highlight the varied devices that could be used for a videoconference. "Even though we showed this works quite well as an over-the-top service on a 4G network, it's really about connecting whatever screen you're sitting in front of," he said.
Dialogic's videoconferencing application
OTT termed good but not great
Walder said most OTT video conferencing apps are plagued by intermittent service problems. He cited as proof the video chat service ooVoo, which posts its technical support Q&A forum online, revealing a number of ongoing issues reported by users.
Nonetheless, ooVoo has made inroads with mobile operators. Most recently the company announced that its free video chat and integrated instant messaging app is now featured on select Verizon Wireless Android-based LTE devices as part of Verizon's ongoing Ice Cream Sandwich software upgrade.
Yet Adensamer says adoption of OTT services is not necessarily negative because they are helping seed awareness of services such as mobile video chat and conferencing.
It will take time for services such as voice over LTE (VoLTE) and IMS-enabled video to get rolled out by operators. "In the meantime, the over-the-top providers will get some level of traction. I think that's a positive because consumers are seeing the benefits of personalized video communications on mobile devices," said Adensamer.
He contends that operators are the only ones that can make video communications services ubiquitous, seamless and idiot-proof across platforms and devices.
"Ten years out, video calling will be ubiquitous and you need a common set of telephony standards to drive that convergence. Unless Skype or FaceTime takes off and achieves 100 percent of the market, it's not going to achieve that goal. The goal has to be driven by network convergence that's delivered by an operator," he said.
Similarly, Walder contends that mobile network operators with IP-based architectures will be able to open up mobile video communications to developers, which, in turn, will create apps for a host of attractive verticals such as telemedicine, education and public safety. "The engine is there to create these kinds of rich communications and conference experiences," he said.
Noted Adensamer: "Operators have a nice opportunity here to counter-punch the over the top plays with these types of architectures."