Telefonica & TokBox: Is it Video, APIs or WebRTC They Were Looking For?

Telefonica just acquired TokBox. Why exactly, and what can they do with it?

[If you are new around here, then you should know I've been writing about WebRTC lately. You can skim through the WebRTC post series or just read what WebRTC is all about.]

The same day I publish a post about carriers and developers Telefonica goes off and acquires TokBox. Problem was that on that same day I went on vacation… talk about bad timing.

I’ve preached about video for years. Talked about APIs even here, and WebRTC is the major part of this blog. All of it is wrapped up in this acquisition.

So what is this acquisition about?

  • Video vendors would definitely see this as an affirmation of their path. While video has been with us for over a decade, it never really caught on anywhere besides Skype – so now that a large carrier – Telefonica no less – is acquiring a video centric startup – this is some real validation
  • APIs: TokBox is all about APIs. While they offer a video platform, it is a programmable one, so this can be viewed as a move of a carrier to attract developers. For Telefonica, this falls nicely with their BlueVia brand for developers.
  • WebRTC maybe? Can this be an indication that WebRTC is something that carriers are really interested about? Up to the point of an acquisition?

I think it is a combination of the above, with two things that need to be noted here:

  1. While TokBox is planning on adding WebRTC (they have it in beta but their customers aren’t using it yet), they are still all about Flash. The fact that they can and will offer both makes them a robust solution when it comes to web based video calling for developers
  2. TokBox is all about video. They do provide communication related APIs for developers, and in that sense they are similar to Twilio and Voxeo. But you don’t go to TokBox to build a phone application – you go to them to build a video chat one. They have had no real connection with telcos up until now – at least not in the sense of driving voice and messaging traffic through telcos.

To me, this all boils down to the fact that It is NOT about WebRTC. Assume Telefonica acquired Twilio. Would you call that a WebRTC acquisition or an API acquisition? This was about getting APIs for video communications to an existing developer community – one that uses Flash today but might use WebRTC in the future.

The future is a lot more interesting, though:

  • Will Telefonica wait the same amount of time it did with Jajah until it does something with this acquisition? I hope they will move faster this time…
  • Telefonica plans on folding TokBox into BlueVia, but how will they combine TokBox, if at all, with their Tu Me VoIP OTT service?
  • What will Telefonica do about voice? Their main API set doesn’t seem to include voice calling, but now it has video… will they be going for Twilio or Voxeo for that one? Or will they roll out their own? Will they skip voice altogether?

Expect to see more carriers sharing more APIs – internal as well as acquired ones that relate to communications.

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The sad thing about all this? TokBox probably won’t accept a request for an interview now…

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