The Disruption, and Subsequent Innovation, from WebRTC

Mobile Musings

The Disruption, and Subsequent Innovation, from WebRTC

By Jim Machi, SVP of Marketing  |  March 15, 2013

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

Over the course of my career, I have worked with many disruptive technologies. Perhaps the most disruptive so far have been voice over IP and Wi-Fi. But there is a new technology that has the potential to be just as impactful – Web Real Time Communications, or WebRTC. There is tremendous hype, but if you are an end user, you won’t even notice it (after providing permissions for the browser to use your microphone and camera) since it’s behind the scenes of how you are communicating. 

So what is WebRTC? Essentially WebRTC is a framework consisting of several APIs such as HTML5, Java, etc., but it’s about what it changes that makes it so important. The WebRTC API enables voice and/or video calls to be made as part of a web browser. Yes, you could make voice and video calls through the web today, but those calls are made through more elaborate means, such as tying adjuncts (that enable click to call for instance) into the solution, or through proprietary means. Basically, one needs to know SIP/VoIP to enable web calls today.

With WebRTC, the capability is simply a standard and an open standards part of the browser. Anyone who knows how to program websites/Java can enable these calls. The API handles the hard signaling and media. People who have never even heard of VoIP can now create communication applications. This could enable millions and millions of new communications developers to get into the act-  if you assume any Java developer could program these calls. And really, that is why WebRTC is so important – because it opens up the VoIP world even more.

One impact of a browser-to-browser call is that if you are consuming content from a specific browser, then whatever device you use to enable the browser is what you watch or listen to. So if you subscribe to a service, then you can watch it on your Internet TV, your tablet, your smartphone, or your smart microwave – anything you have with a browser. You just log on. This non-device specificity changes the nature of the way one thinks about a communication application. You wouldn’t call your cell phone or your home phone. You would just log on.

Does this also mean that how we create communication applications today will go the way of analog phones? It will be a long time before all applications are WebRTC enabled, even if it does take the industry by storm. WebRTC is a Google (and supported by Mozilla (News - Alert), Opera) initiative which means there likely will be organizations that might not really want Google to succeed, and so they won’t support WebRTC (at least until they have to). Therefore, we could be in a dual world for quite a while, even in the web call to web call realm.  

There will clearly be interconnect opportunities and challenges to solve. Companies like Dialogic (News - Alert) will jump in and provide solutions to close the gap and allow for seamless interoperability between WebRTC clients and the rest of the world. Media servers and SBCs will do the heavy lifting to ensure the signaling and media can talk correctly back and forth. 

Another interconnect to the real world that needs to occur is regarding the use of functions like voice mail and conferencing. If a browser-to-browser experience is more the norm, what if the recipient of a call cannot (or doesn’t want to) answer the phone? This happens to me on Skype (News - Alert) today since I have various ways to talk – desk phone, Lync, cell phone, and Skype. Just because my Skype profile says I’m available doesn’t mean I’m actually available. If you want to leave a VM, or equivalent of a VM, a media server will need to be involved.

And what about conferencing, which is a very potent use case for WebRTC because people could point their browsers at a website, thereby enabling a conference. Conferencing (such as loudest talker algorithm, call recording and echo cancellation) is hard. Thereby, media servers will need to be involved in these types of applications as well. My point is there will be a migration, and it will take some time.

Ultimately, WebRTC will be disruptive. Communications applications could be created by millions of developers. We will see applications in the market that we can’t even dream about now. And, all of this will elevate the way we communicate. 

Jim Machi is senior vice president of marketing at Dialogic Inc. (

Jim Machi is senior vice president of marketing at Dialogic Inc. (

Edited by Brooke Neuman