The Time is Now for Video Communications Services
It is time for service providers to aggressively embrace IP communications and deliver a much richer communications experience and service to their customers. Over-the-top (OTT) applications and services, which often include video calling as a standard integrated feature, are challenging core messaging and voice communications service revenue. Many global technology brands known for web services applications and marketing strength, like Skype, are staking claims in the communication services business with over-the-top services. In effect, service providers need to embrace the same service delivery methodology as their over-the-top competitors, delivering communications services as an application on top of their broadband data networks with video calling and related value added services as integrated features.
This OTT challenge presents the very real prospect of becoming a broadband utility service for incumbent communications service providers, even though they have many resources at their disposal to succeed and prosper in this new competitive service environment. As such, it is now seen as high time for communications service providers to deliver video communications services over their wired and wireless broadband IP networks. In order to do this, service providers need viable solutions to defend and expand core revenue sources.
Defining Video Communications Services (VCS)
Video Communications Services leverage end-to-end IP networks to deliver real-time communications services that go beyond VoIP as a PSTN replacement. VCS also runs parallel to many OTT communications services, typified by the well-known Skype service. Skype software clients are installed on intelligent endpoints such as personal computers, smartphones, smart TVs, and DVD players that enable instant messaging, HD voice/video communications, file sharing, contact lists and presence indications.
In essence, VCS are delivered using a client-server application approach and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) as the primary signaling protocol for routing the communication traffic. It uses a model that enables end users to communicate in many ways as dictated by situation and need. SIP application and media servers deployed within the network operation centers deliver the services across the operator’s broadband network, interconnecting smart endpoints running compatible client applications.
Additionally, VCS runs parallel to the unified communications paradigm that has been introduced in business communication systems and services in the 2000s. For example, a user can start an SMS or chat session, turn it into a voice call, promote it to a video call, invite other users into a multi-party video conference, and even add streaming video and other content to share in the communications session for a richer communications experience. Functionally, VCS combines many interactive communication types into an integrated and unified service that allows users to establish communication sessions and promote the level of interaction on-demand through the client application. Indeed, it is based on the same broadband network principals and protocols, but it is delivered as a core service from the service provider’s IP network, instead of as an enterprise PBX replacement or application overlay.
Challenges to Delivering VCS
Today, traditional wire line PSTN service providers, a mobile network operator (MNOs), or a multi-service operator (MSOs) deliver real-time communication services that are narrowband voice-centric. And even though MNOs enjoy the massive growth in wireless data plans driven by smartphone and tablet adoption, they still maintain a PSTN-like approach to voice services over 2G and 3G networks. 4G/LTE, the next generation of wireless network technology currently rolling out from MNOs in many regions, is essentially a broadband, IP data network to the mobile device, with mobile internet access its primary function.
Traditional wire line PSTN and cable service providers deliver voice communication services and value-added voice services such as voice messaging, 3-way calling, caller-ID, etc. Many of these services are delivered via next-generation broadband IP networks, however they remain primarily traditional, narrowband PSTN replacements with similar characteristics and features to traditional PSTN voice services. In many ways, basic voice communications has been something of an afterthought on 4G/LTE mobile networks, with the initial strategy being to ‘fallback’ to narrowband 3G or 2G networks for voice service.
Meanwhile, OTT communications service providers have taken big slice of the global real-time wire-line communications pie in terms of minutes (if not revenue) and threaten to expand their reach as the demand for mobile broadband and app-ready devices continues to grow. They use both proprietary and standards-based IP communications protocols, all of which may add presence, IM, chat, video, conference, HD voice codecs, screen sharing, and other, richer communication functions to their services. For example, Skype-based communications sessions already exceed 300M minutes per month, of which 50 percent are video calls according to industry sources that track services consumption rates. By contrast, how many minutes of video calls are MSOs, MNOs, PSTN and CLEC service providers racking up monthly?
How Service Providers Can Differentiate VCS and Make it Competitive
It may be difficult to envision how service provider-based VCS, like those delivered by AT&T, Comcast and Vodafone, could be brought to market as a competitive alternative to an OTT service provider, especially since OTT services like Skype, Google and Facebook have been so successful in the global market. Even though the competition is at high stakes across the globe for the next-generation of real-time communication services and the associated revenue, many service providers today are in a strong position to deliver video communications services to their customers. Consider the following advantages for providers:
· Direct service, billing, and marketing relationship with their customers. In many regions, service providers maintain direct control over the client devices operating on their network, including factory-installed application suites.
· Exercising control, and even prioritizing, real-time communications traffic to improve the QoS / QoE through network, endpoint, and NOC monitoring and management.
· Having the ability to bundle value-added services with broadband connectivity, or to offer them in easy-to-consume ‘à la carte’ increments to existing billing structures.
· History of peering with fellow service providers and developing interoperability across networks to expand the reach of video communications services.
· Access and licensing agreements with content providers, enabling streaming video content as a key component of VCS. Many service providers are already offering ‘triple’ and ‘quad’ play services to their customers in the form of broadband internet, voice, wireless and TV services, enabling easy reach to ‘four screens’ (smartphone, tablet, PC, TV) with VCS and streaming content to enhance video communications services (think sharing content and video chatting at the same time).
· Deploying IMS and IMS-like network architectures that are specifically designed to enable new value-added services via SIP application servers and multimedia servers.
· Building (or having direct access to) cloud computing datacenters, which can enable efficient and rapid scalability for new video communications services, particularly where software multimedia servers are employed in the service solution.
· Having above communication assets, which allows them to implement innovative and efficient video communication services that leverage the top trends in smart endpoints, broadband IP networks, and the end-users’ desire to communicate in richer and more collaborative ways.
Potential Ways to Monetize
Service revenue models for VCS that compete with OTT services will need to be established by communication service providers. The general global appeal for OTT services is being a free or low-cost service as for ‘feature richness,’ and often times, viewed as basic services by end users. This may cause service providers to give these core services away like their OTT counterparts, or at least deliver them for unlimited use at a small flat fee. In turn, service providers need to understand that core revenue might not come from on-net peer-to-peer voice or even one-to-one video communication sessions, but rather from the upsell of value-added video communication amenities, for example conferencing, collaboration tools, video messaging, video ring-back tones, and for establishing ‘off-net’ connections to legacy PSTN, private video networks or other service provider networks. Further monetization could come from the opportunity to grant SIP application and web 2.0 developers access to the video communication functions for integration into other applications or specialized and vertical market applications, be they social, economic or even political.
Use Case Examples of VCS
Calling, conferencing and collaborating using the richest medium – video – is what today’s end-users want, even expect. They want to leverage the hi-definition displays and cameras that are integrated into their smart devices to provide better communication with and within their social networks. And that’s not limited to on-the-go users; it also includes end-users tied to their workstations and those relaxing in front of network connected flat screen TVs. The ability to share video content at the same time creates what is essentially a virtual party session that serves to bring people closer, even when they might be separated by geography.
For example, enjoying a sporting event with friends and family is a popular pastime. Picture this: mom and dad watching in front of the smart TV in your hometown, your sister tied to her workstation, your on-the-go uncle confined to his cell phone, and you who just prefer your tablet, can all watch the game and see each other at the same time via a video conferencing session. VCS could make that a reality today. VCS application and multimedia servers, combined with matching soft clients, enable users to enter a video conference with friends and family, and also stream a sporting event (or other adapted video content) into a tiled window of the video conference.
Once the power of sharing streamed content with conferees across mobile and fixed broadband networks is recognized, the use cases and applications will expand. Consider the ability to stream in content from sources other than broadcast channels, including YouTube, wired and wireless webcams, real-time video broadcasts. Taking it a step further, VCS can also be applied in vertical applications, including public safety where first responders and operations center personnel sharing video of crisis situations, tele-learning with the ability to share educational videos or lectures, and conference in from anywhere on any device, and tele-medicine by conferencing patients with healthcare professionals while watching video instructions on a self-administered health treatment.
The Time is Now
As the limitations of narrowband voice networks are being shed via ubiquitous broadband IP networks and an exciting array of intelligent and powerful mobile endpoints, a huge opportunity has arisen for service providers to deliver a richer and more effective way to communicate with these networks and devices. However, with this huge opportunity may come a clash of interests, including competition for real-time communications market share between traditional service providers and OTT service providers.
IMS network infrastructure, application servers, multimedia servers, cloud infrastructure as well as 3rd party application developers stand ready to help communications service providers launch rich new video communications services to compete with OTT offerings. It is shaping up to be quite an interesting competition – and it is an exciting time for communication services.
By Bud Walder, Product Marketing Director, Dialogic
Bud Walder, email@example.com
Enterprise Marketing Director, Dialogic Corporation
As enterprise marketing director for Dialogic, Bud Walder is responsible for enterprise market segment strategy and supporting activities. Before joining Dialogic in 2006, Walder spent 20 years in enterprise communications systems sales and product management at Intel Corporation, Brother International Corp and Office Business Systems, Inc. Walder holds a BA degree in economics from Rutgers University.
Before joining Dialogic in 2006, Walder spent 20 years in enterprise communications systems sales and product management at Intel Corporation, Brother International Corp and Office Business Systems, Inc.
Walder holds a BA degree in economics from Rutgers University.