Innovation and interoperability go hand in hand, and we shouldn’t forget this point as we listen to the buzz around OTT voice and messaging services, with small startups portrayed as nimble and innovative in contrast with more established mobile operators.
For while there is no denying the appeal of many OTT innovations, it is still interoperability that provides the base for all other services to grow in conjunction with. This was true as the mobile community expanded to six billion users, and it is true today of RCS-e and Joyn, which are fast making group chat interoperable and standardized.
Interoperable innovation is happening in other arenas as well, driven by established telecom companies, with VoLTE and webRTC as prime examples. Here at the Voice on Telecom, we’ve examined the potential of all these services and more, from browser-based communication to HD Voice to WiFi VoIP and video calling.
It’s good to remember that within enriched services, the OTT players are the incumbents and most of the operators are the new kids on the block. But operators can work at a scale that most startups can’t, such as launching interoperable services in integrated packages across many devices, including fixed access such as WiFi and devices like personal computers. They can simplify a service and package it nicely in affordable bundles – comprised of data, devices, enriched communication services and devices – to make adoption hassle free.
Joyn particularly offers this blend of flexibility and interoperability. Operators can already customize and add different services in addition to the core Joyn offering – and this kind of tailored offering will be appropriate depending on every operator’s different market and position. This is true innovation – deciding when to interoperate and when to differentiate.
Peter Carson, senior director for marketing at Qualcomm, put it nicely in a recent interview with telecoms.com:
Where operators have a real opportunity is in bringing to market truly universal, reliable iterations of such services, he says. And while that seamlessness, across networks and international borders, is where much of the time consuming complexity resides, mobile operators should not be disheartened.
And interoperability is going to be even more important as communication services become embedded in every context that can possibly support them. From a 2009 piece in the Financial Times by Michael Shrage, a researcher from MIT:
But where interchangeable parts enabled the mass production era more than a century ago, tomorrow’s interoperable systems promise richer, more diverse and more customizable innovation. Economic historians and post-industrial pundits alike observe that high-impact innovations come less from scientific breakthroughs than from clever recombinations of existing inventions.
To give a concrete example, suppose that a business person is late making a flight connection and has to rebook their ticket. Typically they would have to call the airline or travel agent and give all their info. The level of service drops to the lowest common denominator – a voice call. But what if the agent already knew who they were, what flight they had been on, and knew why they were delayed? This kind of contextual information could save important time, but it also leads to a better user experience, and all this means increased loyalty to the service provider.
To go even further, think of all the ways communication could expand into machine-to-machine communication, other industries such as health and transportation and beyond. It’s exciting stuff, but it’s not a vision that can possibly be built on isolated islands of innovation. We need interoperability to make it a reality.