Mainstream cPaaS growth and impact has been impressive
Disruptive Analysis has tracked the evolution of voice and video communications for over 15 years, including a specific focus on the emergence and growth of WebRTC technology from 2011 onwards. During that time, the general-purpose cPaaS (communications platform-as-a-service) market has emerged and grown rapidly. But the market for special-purpose or safety-critical communications platforms remains fragmented and much less mature.
The ability for app and web developers to incorporate cloud-based functions such as SMS messaging, voice and video calls, or related functions such as recording and text-to-speech has been hugely powerful. Firms such as Twilio and Nexmo (now owned by Vonage) have demonstrated rapid growth, and have expanded into adjacent areas such as cloud telephony and omni-channel customer experience management. But other areas – especially complex B2B and IoT scenarios – remain only rare users of cPaaS.
cPaaS regularly used in contact-centre and UC solutions
The majority of existing contact-centre and unified communications providers have now adopted some form of cPaaS or partnered with 3rd party platforms, as they have moved their main solutions to the cloud. CRM (customer relationship management) suppliers and their enterprise users have used cloud platforms to add extra applications and functionality to IVR (interactive voice response) systems, going well beyond traditional interfaces for CTI (computer-telephony integration).
Smartphone app developers now have a broad array of options for incorporating communications capabilities – whether they are developing a banking app, a game, or a supply-chain management tool. We all receive text messages with one-time passwords or appointment reminders, or use a “click to call” button to speak to a delivery driver nearby. Regular interaction via cPaaS of some sort is almost a daily occurrence.
Systems-embedded and safety-critical communications platforms remain rare
Despite the healthy growth of mainstream cPaaS, some areas remain unaddressed. It is still unusual to have cloud-communications functions designed into more complex systems, such as telecare alarms in a residential care-home, nurse-call systems in hospitals or an industrial automation robot in a factory.
Many enterprises still have a few old analogue phone lines, for instance for elevator alarms, fax machines, or fire controls. There are still business users of intercoms, basic walkie-talkies, pagers and other standalone – and vitally-important – communications systems. The business-critical or safety-critical – and often regulated – nature of such applications has typically prevented them from moving to VoIP and cloud-based platforms.
PSTN switch-offs and new connectivity technologies force a move
However, PSTN switch-offs in many countries are now forcing a move – and the IoT and “enterprise transformation” revolution – aided by new connectivity technologies such as 5G – means that sector will expand into new areas, at the same time. Healthcare and personal safety products, new forms of alarm and security systems, connected vehicles and industrial machines, as well as myriad other devices and solutions will need to incorporate voice, video or other forms of human connectivity for safety-critical or “people-to-process” communications flows.
What do system- and IoT-embedded communications platforms need to do?
The unanswered question is how the providers of those systems will achieve this integration. How will “system-embedded” communications be designed, created, managed and sold in future? How can older, isolated voice or alarm systems be integrated into more holistic IoT architectures?
Few solution providers in the various verticals will have the skills or resources to create their own communications systems in-house, whether premise- or cloud-based. Voice and video communications require close attention to detail in terms of protocols, user-interface and quality, especially in demanding acoustic environments.
Yet it is not clear that the conventional cPaaS market can directly translate to the specialised needs and high reliability / security requirements for these applications, nor some aspects of scalability. Complex integration with legacy or specialist protocols, or compliance with sector-specific regulations are a poor fit with “long-tail” cPaaS delivered via simple web sign-up and APIs. High-value / low-volume applications may be poorly served.
New class of "embedded cPaaS" services
Disruptive Analysis believes the answer lies with a new class of “embedded cPaaS” services, geared more towards complex, vertical use-cases, sensor- and event-based triggers and a variety of hardware systems-integrators and solution providers. There may be a need for direct involvement in the media stream. Often, there will be hardware elements involved such as an alarm, sensors, loudspeaker, screen and so on. The solution provider offers an integrated system to their customer – perhaps a manufacturer, a hospital or care-home provider.
In this scenario, the overall system has a cloud communications element, which needs to work with the rest of the physical-world components, to deliver an overall capability to the end-user – perhaps for many years to come. There is a significant overlap with emergent IoT use-cases.
As a result, there is likely to be a growing space for systems-embedded, critical or event-triggered cPaaS. The exact category-name remains uncertain; alternative names and descriptions are possible (“object-driven communications”, for example). There may be vertical specialisation – perhaps Health & Social Care cPaaS, Industrial cPaaS, Smart Building cPaaS and so on. But the overlap between complex embedded and IoT systems, with cloud-based voice/video communications seems to make its evolution essential and inevitable.
Towards an embedded cPaaS market
Dean Bubley is a global outspoken industry analyst and futurist, with huge experience in areas such as cPaaS, WebRTC, 5G and telecom strategy. He is known for his visionary but challenging opinions, his online presence as @disruptivedean, and is regularly seen at live and virtual conferences around the world and quoted in publications such as The Economist, FT and Wall Street Journal.