BT and Ribbit, Alcatel-Lucent and ProgrammableWeb, Microsoft and Skype. These have been memorable acquisitions in recent years in the telecom space, and the trend points to disruptive web-based tech making a splash — enough for the establishment to cough up millions of dollars to buy out.
Although not a merger or acquisition, Twilio still scores big — in terms of press coverage and spreading its technology — in this partnership with AT&T. Not only did the news of this resale agreement reach telecom channels (NoJitter, Opus Research, Fierce) but also the mainstream technology blogosphere (TechCrunch, GigaOM, ProgrammableWeb). Plus, we’re talking about AT&T here. There’s a reason for the Ma Bell monicker.
Twilio will power the AT&T Advanced Communications Suite (ACS) offering for enterprise customers looking to leverage communications in order to streamline processes and enhance collaboration internally or externally. There will be pre-built voice and SMS-enabled apps made available for purchase on the ACS web portal, or an AT&T customer may decide to create its own app using the Twilio API.
So aside from the high-fives and vigorous handshaking going around in Silicon Valley and Dallas, what does this partnership really tell us?
First, Big Telecom is still behind in Web/Enterprise/Telephony 2.0 offerings, even though any U.S. carrier has a thick portfolio of business customers. These business customers are buying pipe capacity, SIP trunks, mobile subscriptions, and telephone numbers. Big Telecom has a menu full of products and services, but how many of them offer tools for customers to create their own solutions? The fact that AT&T (and probably its competitors) has to look elsewhere to offer web telephony APIs to its business customers is somewhat troubling. And to bill it as advanced communications. Web telephony has been around for years, why didn’t Big Telecom get on the bandwagon sooner with all its money and resources?
Second, will we start to see other similar partnerships (or even M&A) between competitors of Twilio and AT&T? Is this partnership enough of a threat to spur other web telephony/carrier ventures in the industry? I actually don’t think so. I think these web telephony platforms have been around long enough to have their share of loyal developers, including business app developers. In fact many of these web telephony providers have already signed up major companies as clients.
Finally, will a partnership like this spawn or accelerate innovation in web telephony? Well, one thing is very clear: web telephony didn’t need Big Telecom to be innovative and successful. Some may even argue that Big Telecom doesn’t really know how to deal with web telephony, as in the case of BT-Ribbit. Perhaps the timing wasn’t right back then for BT, but with or without Big Telecom web telephony is not only here to stay but here to flourish.