WebRTC promises enterprise networking boon

WebRTC promises enterprise networking boon

Summary: The open standard enabling real-time communications on Web browsers and ability to connect with other WebRTC-enabled mobile devices will remove interoperability issues and cut down software development efforts.


The continued development of the WebRTC standard for real-time communications is expected to herald a new era of enterprise networking, as audio and video conferencing capabilities get embedded in browsers. This will also ultimately allow mobile devices to "speak" to Web browsers via the WebRTC application programming interface (API).

The goal of the project, which started in mid-2011, is to enable applications such as voice calling, video chat andpeer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing without plugins. According to the Webrtc.org site, the standard is a free, open project that enables Web browsers with real-time communications capabilities using simple Javascript APIs.

Commenting on the standard, Geoff Johnson, research vice president at Gartner, said major vendors and those in the open source community working on WebRTC developments will likely solve many of the initial issues required to enable communications from browsers within the next two years. The standard is part of the patchwork of HTML 5 solutions being developed at present, he added.

Looking beyond the next two years, there will be "significant motivation" for a wide range of users and suppliers of communications applications to exploit WebRTC concepts and practices and extend the capabilities into mainstream enterprise networking, Johnson added.

For instance, within contact center operations and communications-enabled business processes, WebRTC can create browser pages for real-time communication as part of an internal workflow, e-commerce, or business process application. Similarly, WebRTC-based applications can create video connections to other devices and media servers that adhere to the standard, he noted.

As such, many technologies using thick- or thin-client applications over limited bandwidth networks will benefit from the ability to derive and provide a rich suite of communications using a Web browser with WebRTC-enabled applications, the analyst said.

"Enterprises should expect WebRTC to eventually become robust enough for use in communications applications in general. They should also prepare for WebRTC to be used in browser-based unified communications and collaboration, contact center and videoconferencing," he stated.

The analyst also highlighted the interest and development support for the standard from major vendors currently. Google, which is one of the standard's strongest proponents, integrated WebRTC into its Chrome development channel in January 2012 and has a video chat plug-in based on the framework for Google Talk.

The Mozilla Foundation released a demo of the WebRTC video calling function running inside its Firefox browser in April this year too, while Microsoft is working on implementing the WebRTC API for its Internet Explorer browser, he added.

Boost for developers
Given the interest and active development support from major vendors, it is likely WebRTC will become a platform that is more than just a vehicle for delivering multiple communications platforms to mobile devices and consumers, Johnson said.

Opera Software, which is also participating in the project, believes the standard "represents a big missing piece in the Web stack".

Lars Erik Bolstad, vice president for core technology at Opera, said: "WebRTC is an interesting functionality to the Web browser. Today, users can rely on their browser for most of the tasks they do on their computers [except for] videoconferencing, which still requires the use of native, proprietary software."

The new standard could help reduce the dependence on proprietary products, which is why the Norwegian browser maker is actively taking part in the standardization of WebRTC and intends to support its features in future products, Bolstad added.

Erik Lagerway, co-founder of Hookflash, a voice and video chat service provider, also pointed out in a Gigaom article in September that WebRTC could take a "great deal of heavy lifting" out of the equation for developers wanting to enable video or voice calling on Web browsers or mobile devices.

He also reiterated Johnson's point on how the new standard could be disruptive to the telecommunications industry.

Lagerway said: "Many traditional VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service providers will wither and die. Mobile operators who continue to behave the way they have been will experience a grand exodus as users flee to new innovative providers. Traditional landline sales and traditional mobile voice usage will slow to a halt, and the phone network you know today will be gone for good."

He added that Skype, which is the "standard" for videoconferencing on the Internet currently, will not dominate the mobile space because it it is a third-party application. Its service will unlikely be embedded by Apple and Google into their into their respective native operating systems--which currently dominate market share in the mobile space, so Skype will remain on the periphery.

When quizzed, Matthew Kaufman, principal architect at Skype, a division of Microsoft, said: "By improving browser capabilities, WebRTC lowers the barriers for people to rely on their browser for voice and video real-time communications." He did not comment on whether Skype's mobile business could be sidelined by the new standard though. 

Topics: Networking, Browser, Unified Comms

Kevin Kwang

About Kevin Kwang

A Singapore-based freelance IT writer, Kevin made the move from custom publishing focusing on travel and lifestyle to the ever-changing, jargon-filled world of IT and biz tech reporting, and considered this somewhat a leap of faith. Since then, he has covered a myriad of beats including security, mobile communications, and cloud computing.

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  • Innovating Through WebRTC

    The Web Real-time Communications Working Group is truly innovating browsers, enabling them to leverage real time communications. Our developers at Blue Jeans felt that the WebRTC API simplified a lot of technologies, allowing us to deliver the first browser interoperability for video conferencing. This is a breakthrough: now all you need to do to participate in a video conference is simply open up your browser, turn on your webcam, then join the video meeting with other participants on any type of video endpoint. Google active participation with WebRTC is helping the industry drive toward a paradigm shift - enterprises are going to have to think differently and modify their systems and processes around video conferencing. A single URL to set up your next video session – with no hassles, no complex video room systems, and no downloading software… that’s innovation.
  • WebRTC shouldn't be taken lightly

    WebRTC changes the whole concept of the way we think today of voice and video calling.
    The incumbent companies in these areas (video conferencing vendors such as Polycom, OTT players as Skype or ooVoo, telcos) need to start testing the technology and understand how it affects their business models and internal company structure.
    Here is what I think for example on how it will affect the fragmentation of the voice market today: http://bloggeek.me/webrtc-fragment-or-consolidate/
    Tsahi Levent-Levi
  • Very interesting perspectives, but overhype as well

    On one side, WebRTC does harbor the potential to over time simplify reach and communication with minimal requirements.

    On the other hand, let's not lose perspective.

    First, Enterprises need much more than basic calls on a browser. They need advanced features such as delegation, admin tools such as identity management, provisioning and policing, reporting and monitoring, compliance and recording, media management (QoS, Call Admission Control, firewall traversal, and of course encryption), etc. Just because the media will become available on the browser does not mean it will become easy for anyone to provide these services, and there might well be some naivity going on here.

    Second, high quality media on PCs (aka softphones) is still a young domain that is far from settled or commoditized in terms of technology and quality. There are several reasons why Skype is doing well, but one of them is the quality of their media stack, which contains a lot of intellectual property. Real time media is very different from streaming media, and much harder to do well. Standardization typically results in some sort of lowest common denominator, not to mention standard essential patents and licensing fees. If the result of this is higher cost and lower quality, it's not sure we'd be winners.

    Third, there are obvious current alternatives today. As one example (others are certainly available, with the likes of Webex providing media on browsers as well), the recently announced Lync 2013 supports full AV, including simultaneous multistreams of HD video, on a browser. From http://lync.microsoft.com/en-us/Pages/Lync-2013-Preview.aspx :
    Lync Web App: Both PC and Mac users can now join a Lync Meeting from a browser and enjoy the rich Lync Meeting experience, including multiparty HD video, voice over IP (VoIP), instant messaging, and desktop, application, and PowerPoint sharing.

    So essentially with Lync 2013 you can speak (from a browser) to anyone who's got a browser. This is done without WebRTC today since there is not yet any clear unified and broadly deployed way of doing that with WebRTC, which comes to show that WebRTC is not a functional revolution - it is entirely possible to do similar things today - but instead a technological evolution that will make this things somewhat simpler.

    So, is WebRTC useful? Yes absolutely, if done the right way. But is it as critical and ground breaking as portrayed here? No way. It's another step on a technology continuum, not a revolution. Let's stop focusing blindly on technology and instead think in terms of customer needs and solutions. WebRTC will contribute in making these a bit easier and broader, but will not be revolutionary.
  • WebRTC Innovations for Mobile and Multi-Party Interactions

    The article is on the money.. Having worked in the service provider industry, delivery of clients was and remains the main barrier in delivering new services faster. WebRTC solves that problem, both for new entrants, developers and web services... also an opportunity for service providers to deliver video services to the masses.

    Innovations are just beginning. Here at OpenClove, we just announced the support of Multi-Party calling on webRTC.. using our OVX for cloud mixing, in addition to the dynamic compression for optimized delivery of interactive video on mobile networks. This is absolutely critical for mass adoption. See it working here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lfBnjGQ0uQ

    Innovations such as these are critical to change the communications paradigm.. bringing it to the users, where they are.