Chris Kranky

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tokbox: the new telco

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

opentok-logoI knew traditional telcos were in danger the day I change ISP’s from Comcast to Verizon. Nearly before I had concluded the cancel call with the agent, Comcast had shut down my email account in a few nanoseconds. Why though I wondered? Maybe I would come back some day, maybe this was a way to stay in touch with me, maybe this would be a channel to sell me other service. But no, I wasn’t a subscriber of Internet (or TV) and damn if they were going to spend $0.04 a month providing me email.

Stupid isn’t it. Yet stupid appears to continue to be the norm for many service providers focused more on the pipe than on the service. Perhaps we should just call them pipe providers. Hurts doesn’t it.

The spittle nearly leaps from telcos mouths with the mere mention of something they call “OTT”. It sounds like some sort of outer space alien coming to roost. Yet telcos more than anyone need to embrace the change that is upon us. There are pipes and there are applications & services. You can be in either/or or both and make money, but understand there is a clear delineation.

Telefonica has obviously gotten that message and it’s not too late for other service providers to adopt similar models. With the acquisition of tokbox, the creation of a London digital media unit, purchase of LD provider Jajah — Telefonica is opening their cheque book to purchase into this new space. Is there a solid business case? Probably not (though no doubt Power Points existed that say there was). Will these acquisitions produce buckets of free cash flow? Who knows.

But what Telefonica does know is doing nothing is likely not a good strategy. In the grand scheme of things, these acquisitions are minor investments. The bigger picture is how to reshape their company to compete in the future, to inject new people, new ideas and new ways of conducting business outside their comfort area. Yes, they will be a pipe provider and yes people will likely be willing to pay for that pipe. But they can’t dig holes everywhere and by separating these new businesses and unhinging them from “their” pipe, they open up the world to it’s longer list of customers.  This is about growth in an entirely new arena.

tokbox’s CEO Ian Small did a stellar job at the recent WebRTC World. As he approached the stage, I feared another “we let the CEO present against our better judgement” type of presentation. Ian, in a matter-of-fact manner, began his talk and I felt the audience being drawn in as he wove a simple story about how the power of WebRTC was within the ready grasp of everyone in the room. Informative, interesting and engaging. Try and remember that the next time you get loose with PowerPoint.

tokbox is about exposing all sorts of techie levers and gizmos to developers to leverage for their end application with great stuff code examples with deep meaning statements such as “// Initialize session, set up event listeners, and connect”. Good council for all of us. But what Ian was able to do was not get mired in the underlying technology but to focus on what it meant to you.

To me this represented what telecos (if that word exists in 10 years) need to become. Still happily mired in technology but making it more accessible to a broader group of technologists on their terms and with words they understand.