What Does OTT or "Over the Top Communications" Really Mean?

May 1st, 2016

The true meaning of over the top (OTT) networking isn’t always understood—even by networking veterans.

Yet almost all of us use Over the Top communications apps—we just don’t always know it. Instant messaging, Internet telephony, and video conferencing are just of the few of the categories of apps delivered over the top.

So what is OTT exactly? Over the top communications apps are those services that bypass traditional network distribution approaches and run over, or on top of, core Internet networks. Skype, for instance, doesn’t own the communications infrastructure that delivers their VoIP and video services—they operate over the top of telecom carriers such as Verizon and AT&T.

What makes OTT so compelling is that it’s cheaper (with no subsidies to incumbent providers), and highly flexible since there are fewer rules and contract obligations to hold you back. Another key advantage is that OTT isn’t beholden to traditional billing models from telecom service providers.

For SMBs looking to make the jump to voice and video communications over IP, OTT seems like a great option—but there are still some challenges to overcome.

The OTT Revolution

The new OTT apps, with free or lower-cost models, are forcing the well-established telcos to respond. Whether that response is more aggressive pricing, or pushing the greater reliability, security, performance (backed by quality of service and sometimes SLAs), and feature sets of incumbent offerings.

OTT first took hold amongst consumers. But like many technologies that started with the masses, OTT soon entered the workforce. Research from Software Advice shows that 60% of users exploit OTT apps at work, and nearly a third, some 28%, communicate exclusively over OTT. This includes text, IM and some form of VoIP.

Overcoming the Downside of OTT

OTT has offered tremendous innovation, but not all is perfect. Because OTT app makers don’t have full control over the networks they run on top of, quality can suffer. Poor voice quality for VoIP, jittery or lagging video, and glitchy screen sharing apps are a few of the results.

Simpler apps such as text and IM have fewer performance complaints since the data transferred is so small. In demanding corporate settings, unreliable performance isn’t always acceptable and more robust communications solutions are sought and procured.

OTT apps gain favor with SMBs because they don’t require an in-house IT department to maintain an intricate communications infrastructure. However, users experiencing quality issues won’t turn to the underlying network carriers—they’ll blame the OTT provider. To improve QoS for OTT voice and video over IP, service providers must control the network edge with dedicated session border controllers (ESBCs).

Are you concerned about ill-performing OTT tools? Is substandard VoIP particularly problematic? Contact Edgewater Networks and see how EdgeMarc ESBCs and the EdgeView VoIP support system can let you exploit all the features that OTT tools have to offer, while maintaining the performance standards that are important to your company.

Ask Us Anything!

Ribbon's team of professionals are ready to answer your questions, guide you to the right solution or help you with your network design.