Does Singapore have the Skype killer?

By Graeme Somerville-Ryan

The tech world is forever looking for competitor ‘killers’ - iPad/iPhone killers, cable TV killers, YouTube name it and someone is trying to kill it. Google vs. IBM (for a while) and Apple vs. Samsung - least the lawyers are getting paid. It’s a war out there.

While much of the actual bloodshed revolves around copyright and anticompetitive behaviour, my guess is what the incumbents are most scared of is a game-changing technology.

After all, it is difficult to fight a new technology that fundamentally challenges your existing product line. This is the Holy Grail of tech—getting something to market that people want, and doing so well before any of your competitors.

Smart phones and tablets are perhaps the two best recent examples of this. Nothing confirms the mortal wounding of both desktop and laptop computers than the fact I am sitting here on my iPad writing a document onto Google Drive. The times have certainly changed.

So what's next? What new technology is going to revolutionise the way we do business?

Over the last six months I have been introduced to the world of Web Real-Time Communication or WebRTC as it is more commonly known.

Though 'commonly' is a relative term - I don't think too many folk outside the Internet standards community really know that much about WebRTC. But they should. WebRTC has the potential to really shake up the world of digital communications and online marketing.

At its most simple level, WebRTC will allow audio visual communication (voice calls and video conferencing) and document sharing over a browser...any browser. Currently WebRTC is available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera (accounting for a major part of the browser market), Even Safari and Explorer are going to get in on the act.

So how is this going to impact online and Web 2.0 communication? Communicating over a browser means all you need is access to the Internet to talk to another person (who has access to the internet).

No special apps are needed; you don't need 'Facetime' or ‘Toledo’ or ‘Oovoo’ or any device-specific software. You don't need to have downloaded Skype. Smart TVs, which can access the Internet, now have the potential to act as video conference (VC) units.

The bandwidth to run WebRTC is minimal - far less than for the commonly popular enterprise VC systems being run today. This will mean clearer connections and the ability to bring in multiple parties into conference calls...and by multiple I don’t mean two or three people. Dozens of individuals could be brought into calls.

Practically applied, staff meetings could be held with individuals on their smart phones, at their desks, in VC rooms, on construction sites, and even from ships at sea. The same meeting could be opened up to key external clients through meeting-specific invitations and authorisations.

From a marketing, client relationship and business management perspective, WebRTC has nearly endless applications and possibilities.

But getting WebRTC from the development phase into a commercially applicable product is no easy task. As a result, this is real start-up territory and it will be interesting to see who can produce a usable and enterprise-relevant product.

As can be expected with ICT R&D, the companies looking to commercialise WebRTC come from all over the world - the US, France, and the Singapore-based Temasys Communications.

So where to from here? There is an international race going on to develop the next generation of 'open platform' audio visual communications. This will seriously disrupt a number of heavyweight technology incumbents’ business models. For those of us involved in B2B and B2C marketing, the applications of WebRTC are as wide as we can imagine.

Pushing the ‘knowledge economy’ ‘barrow—developing new technologies and tech solutions is where Singaporean start-ups will make real money. Replicating a successful model developed somewhere else is fine, but real success should be measured through new innovative initiatives.

As with all tech start-ups, the key to success will be defined by the local appetite for investment, marketing, client support, and usability. It is quite possible that Singapore will be home to the 'Skype-killer'.

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