WebRTC: It's a SIP World After All


WebRTC: It's a SIP World After All

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  May 20, 2013

Unified communications – the ideal of anywhere, anytime, any medium, any device, any network access to communications resource – carries with it one major flaw. Specifically, despite the unprecedented advances in UC, which enable communications and collaboration in a variety of environments and situations, UC remains tied to specific applications and services, delivering true geographic transparency only within the confines of proprietary systems, despite the notion of standardization. The idea of a truly agnostic communications platform – being able to leverage UC capabilities, independent of application, device, or network – remains elusive.

“It’s about enabling users/employees to perform their work functions with geographic transparency and in time slices of their choosing, enabled by the new devices that are coming out,” Grant Sainsbury, vice president of advanced solutions at Dimension Data (News - Alert), explained quite effectively, adding that, “UC is the only technology that has been launching for 16 years.”

WebRTC, based on straight browser-to-browser connectivity, is perhaps the hottest topic in communications circles today. Conceptually, it holds the promise to end that decade-and-a-half launch and overcome the device and application barrier, allowing communication between any two web-enabled devices, anywhere, simply through the use of a web browser.

Click the link to connect via voice or video, just as you would open a website. It sounds simple, right?

In theory, yes. But, as with any other technology, it has to play nicely in the sandbox. In this case, it has to integrate easily into existing communications environments. For one thing, businesses have made investments and are looking to achieve high ROI, so WebRTC will need to be an easy add-on to their existing capabilities.

“People aren’t going to throw away their existing hardware or applications,” Sajeel Hussain, vice president of product marketing at Thrupoint (News - Alert), says. “But, WebRTC can unlock the power of UC and extend that to all users.”

The second point, of course, is standardization and interop. There are many technologies that have shown promise in their early stages, but have failed to achieve greatness due to lack of agreement by key players. UC adoption has been slower than expected due to the many different flavors of SIP, limiting much of its usefulness to in-house users. (Devices like enterprise SBCs are now helping overcome that obstacle.) HD Voice has suffered a similar fate, as interconnects between different network operators have not materialized as we may have hoped, leaving disparate HD islands to enjoy unparalleled audio quality on their own.

Standardization, interoperability and integration – the bane of all communications technologies – will be critical to the widespread adoption of WebRTC. In a closed environment, it will gain little traction and be limited to small groups of users on the same platform. It will also need to be delivered in a way that will allow it to blend into a SIP world – which is why gateway and SBC vendors are so interested. Sonus’ David Tipping (News - Alert), in fact, notes that while WebRTC will be the next easy way to communicate without being tied to a device, the SBC’s role is going to be the same, providing interworking back over to SIP on the back end or securing the app.

Yes, add in the security, along with regulatory and compliance considerations, all of which will forever be part of communications evolution, and it’s clear WebRTC isn’t as simple as clicking a link – at least not yet. The surface has barely been scratched, and there are major hurdles to overcome (remember, the SIP interop issue has still not been fully solved), but WebRTC is creating a real stir. But if the conversation around it is any indication, WebRTC is anything but a flash in the pan. We started the conversation last year at the WebRTC Conference and Expo in San Francisco; we’ll be expanding on that great conversation in Atlanta this June (www.webrtcexpo.com), with comments from Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson (News - Alert), Tokbox, Dialogic, and many more. Where the conversation will end, nobody is sure, but Atlanta will, without doubt, provide insight into how and where WebRTC will evolve in the short and long term.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi