Welcome!

Wireless Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Avi Rosenthal, Carmen Gonzalez, Adrian Bridgwater

Related Topics: Web 2.0, Java, Wireless, SOA & WOA, Linux, Big Data Journal

Web 2.0: Article

Facebook Plays Short and Long Game with WhatsApp and Oculus Rift | Part 1

Takes on Google and Mobile

When Facebook decided to invest a cool $19 billion ($16 billion upfront) for messaging app WhatsApp the entire world was bound to take notice. Telecommunications types, in particular, were keen to understand how this latest move would impact them as mobile operators have been feeling the heat from over the top (OTT) players like Google and Facebook for years. (To put this $19 billion in perspective, AT&T, one of the world's largest telecom carriers, invests about $20 billion in networks and spectrum in an entire year.) Shortly thereafter, in another surprise move and with the dust not quite settled on WhatsApp, Facebook picked up virtual reality startup Oculus Rift for $2 billion. This left many in the industry wondering what exactly was going on. While WhatsApp and Facebook's previous acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion were in keeping with its social network roots, Oculus Rift was in the video game industry and had yet to release a product. This led many to ask: What was Zuckerberg thinking? But if you dig deeper, these acquisitions are intertwined and central to Facebook's short and long term play to develop the next-generation communications platform. With WhatsApp and Oculus Rift, Facebook takes on Google and mobile providers in the race to do just that.

Let's start with WhatsApp. Messaging is one of the top activities on smartphones and these apps are increasingly viewed as social networks. WhatsApp is already an international phenomenon, even if it has not made as much of a statement in the U.S. just yet. In some markets, WhatsApp generates almost as much messaging traffic as all traditional carriers combined. Instead of people using carrier text and voice messaging at cents per message, WhatsApp users consume a few bytes of their data plan for close to zero, and send WhatsApp $1 a year. That's correct: WhatsApp charges nothing for the first year of service and then a mere $1 per user per year. That's not much to a phone company, but nice work for an app company getting close to half a billion users. This leads phone companies to pine after all that revenue they're losing. As if that's not enough, WhatsApp will add a voice calling service to its offering. With this capability, WhatsApp Facebook challenges telcos not only on mobile messaging but also for their bread and butter business: phone calls.

Facebook's entire history is all about getting more and more people to sign up and WhatsApp currently boasts more than 450 million active monthly users. The rapid rise of WhatsApp's user-base was largely due to the low cost and its commitment to not collect user data for advertising revenue, despite users providing detailed personal information to the company, including private texts to friends. If these qualities remain intact, the combined user base of both networks will be truly massive.

Zuckerberg assured the world that acquiring WhatsApp was not simply about money, but rather that it was in tune with his vision that everyone in the world should be connected. He has also stated that mobile operators should give away Internet access in developing nations. Who is going to argue against the idea that communications (in the broadest sense) has delivered social and economic benefits to people in affluent countries? If we expand opportunities to communicate by providing cheap and effective tools, then people and economies benefit, and that's a good thing. However, with free Internet access and almost free WhatsApp voice calling, Facebook can offer nearly what carriers can offer and all those customers will in reality have more disposable income to pay bigger subscriptions and respond to ads. This will mean Facebook gets richer, even as Zuckerberg implied that this would be a happy coincidence, and not the fundamental reason for the acquisition. But it's important to remember that mobile operators stand between Facebook and its customers and rallying public opinion behind a noble cause is good for Facebook and makes the carriers look greedy for not supporting the cause.

WhatsApp is obviously an important element of Facebook's strategy and the company is committed to honoring the app's principles: cheap, reliable, easy to use, no ads and preserves privacy. Just like Google, Facebook is increasingly faced with the harsh reality that many people simply don't like or trust its platform. Buying companies like WhatsApp and Oculus Rift and giving them the freedom to stick to their core roots is an important component to growing the all-important subscriber base and restoring the value and "cool" factor of Facebook long term. Rather than trying to integrate acquisitions into the mother ship, Facebook and Google (e.g., Nest acquisition) are taking a similar approach by putting their significant marketing and development resources behind the acquired companies while letting them continue to innovate autonomously.

The autonomous component is a key strategy. Facebook's internal innovations within its original social networking platform (Facebook Platform and Facebook Messenger for PCs) have not been successful. So, just like corporate giants in other industries, Facebook needed fresh infusion from the outside. For example, while Snapchat and Pinterest have been innovating in social media, Facebook bought its way in with the Instagram purchase in 2012. Facebook's "me too," Snapchat look alike app called Poke - an internal endeavor - again didn't make it off the ground. And it's not just Facebook. Google's list of abandoned projects has its own Wikipedia page that is worth a read. However, when you compare these two companies' success rates in innovation to other big companies (e.g. AT&T, GE, Ford, Nokia) they all have lists of failures alongside their successes that keep them in business. We expect Google and Facebook to be different because they are still relatively new, but now they are big and like any large corporation are just as prone to messing up big projects. Following in the path of corporate giants that came before them, buying innovative small companies is critical to their long-term strategy and relevance.

When it comes to these companies' actual wins, some might argue, for example that the Android OS and Google Web Services are only successful because they have been given way to boost Google's real business - Google search and Web ads - which are still responsible for the bulk of Google's revenue. This is a similar theme for Facebook. Both companies are riding the Web advertising wave, but now to stay on top in that field they need to remain the go-to players for the next-generation communications/advertising platform: augmented reality provided by Google Glass and Virtual Reality provided by Oculus Rift (Facebook). However it is important to note that advertising revenue has become, for these companies, not the primary goal, but rather a means to an end. Google's actions suggest that the company has a bigger picture in mind, and Zuckerberg wants to build a lasting place in history for himself and Facebook. Both companies are entering these new modified-reality markets to ensure they have a growing subscriber base and their advertising revenue is protected well into the future to give them the funds they need to do what they want in their endeavors. But that's where the similarities come to a grinding halt.

I'll get into the differences in my next blog. Follow us on Twitter to make sure you don't miss it.

More Stories By Esmeralda Swartz

Esmeralda Swartz is CMO of MetraTech, now part of Ericsson. She has spent 15 years as a marketing, product management, and business development technology executive bringing disruptive technologies and companies to market. Esmeralda is responsible for go-to-market strategy and execution, product marketing, product management, business development and partner programs. Prior to MetraTech, Esmeralda was co-founder, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Lightwolf Technologies, a big data management startup. She was previously co-founder and Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of Soapstone Networks, a developer of OSS software, now part of Extreme Networks (Nasdaq:EXTR). At Avici Systems (Nasdaq:AVCI), Esmeralda was Vice President of Marketing for the networking pioneer from startup through its successful IPO. Early in her career, she was a Director at IDC, where she led the network consulting practice and worked with startup and leading software and hardware companies, and Wall Street clients on product and market strategies. Esmeralda holds a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in Marketing and International Business from Northeastern University.

You can view her other blogs at www.metratech.com/blog.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
The 3rd International @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades.
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines...