When I talk to customers, they often ask about how WebRTC compares to voice over LTE (VoLTE), and which technology “will win.” Those who believe that there has to be a concrete winner and loser in this debate say so because WebRTC is over-the-top content (OTT),while VoLTE is carrier supported.
I do not necessarily see it that way. In my opinion, WebRTC is a way for voice and video to be integrated into communications applications. Sure, you can make a WebRTC point-to-point VoIP call, which technically would compete with a VoLTE call, but WebRTC really comes down to the apps. So a more appropriate battle, so to speak, would be WebRTC versus the rich communication suite (RCS).
Let’s talk about WebRTC versus VoLTE first. An offering by the carrier to the subscriber would include VoLTE as part of the package. Therefore, the subscriber may not even know (or care for that matter) that he is using VoLTE. If the 2014 numbers are any indication, VoLTE rollouts are gaining major momentum. As carrier networks move more and more toward IP multimedia subsystems (IMS), VoLTE becomes the preferred method of voice and video calls.
Dialogic puts a lot of faith in VoLTE technology. In fact, our software-based media server PowerMedia is an IMS media resource function (MRF) that supports both IR.92 and IR.94, which are necessary for VoLTE compatibility. VoLTE will be the de-facto method for voice and video calls from multiple carriers that use LTE networks. Keep in mind that one huge advantage the carriers have over their subscribers is that they usually make an initial “standard” offer, where the full functionality of VoLTE is not in the shop window. Additionally, the carriers wield full power over the pay-for-quality aspect of VoLTE, along with its tight quality of service (QoS) requirements. In the end, you get what you pay for. If it’s free, to whom are you going to complain? Some people will pay for typical mobile/cellular service, and be satisfied despite the limitations. However, other people tend to demand the best available service out there. The carriers ultimately need to offer true flexibility and differentiation to cater to a range of customer needs. On a phone call, the added value of VoLTE is noticeable, which inherently makes it something lots of people would pay for.
WebRTC can be used by the carrier to offer its own OTT voice or video apps. Likewise, the OTT app providers themselves can use WebRTC. In fact, many carriers are supporting WebRTC. Personally, I don’t think WebRTC competes with VoLTE or IMS. Sure, there can be direct WebRTC-based “calls” that compete with VoLTE, but like I said above, the WebRTC calls on an open Internet network would be subject to the vagaries of the network bandwidth that accompanies it. If you want to look at it that way, WebRTC may really compete with RCS. This is an entirely different debate because it’s all about apps. WebRTC could enable the carriers to offer their own apps more easily. The Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) is starting to look into WebRTC and initiating working groups to incorporate WebRTC into the IMS network. This is how VoLTE will thrive alongside WebRTC, rather than compete against it.
However, because WebRTC is built into the browser, we will ultimately see a lot of apps that incorporate voice and video as elements of a larger communications application. Think about the Amazon MayDay help app – it’s only a part to a whole. That’s where I see the ultimate benefit of WebRTC. We will see people “talking” to one another as part of a communications app, not as the overall function of the application.