(This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2013 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY)
The sun is setting on the PSTN and narrowband voice networks, while the WebRTC ecosystem and the number of solutions based on the new technology are growing. Already, WebRTC is supported on more than 1 billion endpoints, says Google, one of a raft of important tech companies driving this new technology. And Disruptive Analysis expects that to grow to 3.9 billion by 2016.
Yet there are few value-added solutions based on WebRTC, and the jury is still out as to whether tech giants Apple and Microsoft will endorse, ignore, or – worst case scenario – interfere with, the advancement of WebRTC.
That was some of the commentary from speakers at the WebRTC Conference & Expo this summer in Atlanta.
The Missing Piece
“The big issue with Microsoft and Apple is that if they did nothing it would be better than if they did something completely different,” Ian Small, CEO of TokBox said, adding that with new Firefox support for WebRTC, the clock starts ticking on these other companies.
Here, Small gets to the fact that WebRTC is not ubiquitously available because it’s not built in to all browsers. Rather, only Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s (News - Alert) Firefox browser currently support WebRTC.
When and whether Apple and Microsoft eventually follow suite with Safari, a lesser used browser but one that’s built in to the popular iPad and iPhone (News - Alert) devices, and Internet Explorer, which according to Netmarketshare is the leader by far with 56.15 percent market share, remains to be seen.
Rich Tehrani, CEO of TMC (News - Alert), which puts on the WebRTC event in partnership with PKE Consulting’s Phil Edholm and Crossfire Media, asked Small and other experts on a panel in Atlanta whether Microsoft’s recent move to buy Skype (News - Alert) may make it less likely to embrace WebRTC.
“Skype’s value is not their endpoint, it’s the service. So why would WebRTC be anything but a good thing for them?” responded Jan Linden, senior product manager for Google.
Small seemed to agree, pointing out that Skype has a network and has users on the service that network enables, and commenting that getting the users is the hard part.
“WebRTC is just a transport, and I think they’ll get there in time,” Small said of Skype and Microsoft.
Band of Brothers
While WebRTC thus far has failed to get the green light from Apple and Microsoft, the technology certainly has a strong stable of supporters. In addition to Google, which got the party started, Alcatel Lucent, Dialogic (News - Alert), Ericsson, GENBAND, Genesys and many others are WebRTC proponents. And Graham Holt, vice president of sales solutions and engineering at software engineering services company Daitan Group, which has a client list that includes large carriers, over-the-top providers, social media companies, and anybody that needs help with big data projects, said that everyone in videoconferencing wants to bridge over to WebRTC.
The popularity of WebRTC is also evidenced in the growing attendance at WebRTC Conference & Expo, which doubled between the November event in San Francisco and the June gathering in Atlanta, Edholm noted in a recent blog.
“The WebRTC ecosystem and community is growing,” he added. “It started in 2010 with a small group at Google, expanded in 2011 with a strong group of standards advocates and then in 2012 with early evangelists and companies. In Atlanta, we saw an upswing in service provider attendance and interest as well as explosive growth in applications and services that were delivering key values with WebRTC as an adjunct.”
Going forward, Edholm expects enterprise telecom teams and customer service teams to move into the fold. To date, these teams have been on the sidelines, he said, but as they begin to do their 2014 planning, WebRTC is moving into the picture. The next WebRTC Conference & Expo, this one to take place Nov. 19-21 in Santa Clara, Calif., will address that trend.
Trends with Benefits
So what’s attracting this growing list of converts to WebRTC?
Plenty, noted Google’s Linden le.
For starters, it transforms the browser into a web communications hub, he said, adding that without WebRTC there’s a big gap between native and web apps.
WebRTC, he continued, is easy to use, fast, secure, freely available, and allows for simple integration with HTML5 solutions. Chrome, Firefox, and Opera update frequently, so lots of innovation there, he added, and the web is a better place to be for developers for the above reasons and because it’s always up to date and evolving – both in terms of the browsers and the apps.
Dialogic Corp. recently did a survey to get insight on what people see as the key benefits of WebRTC. Jim Machi revealed that 60 percent of respondents indicated the primary benefit of WebRTC, as they see it, is that it allows for communications without requiring a client download. However, Dialogic’s vice president of product management went on to say that what his company thinks is truly disruptive about WebRTC is it allows for true unified communications. Today’s UC, he explains, is more of a Frankenstein model, where you have different components of unified communications stitched together.
However, there’s a fair amount of stitching together that is likely to take place on the WebRTC table as well. Dialogic’s Machi, among others at the Atlanta event, were very clear in emphasizing that need, which by the way puts companies offering tools like media servers and session border controllers in a position to benefit.
While there’s a lot of talk about how WebRTC enables browser-to-browser phone or video calls, another use case can connect the browser to something else – like a browser to a gaming network or a mobile network, for example, he said. And when the browser is connected to something else, there’s a need for a media server to save files, and to do things such as signaling and transcoding.
At this point in the WebRTC adoption curve, we’re seeing primarily point-to-point calls and contact center extensions first, says Ray Adensamer, senior manager of product marketing at Radisys. Point-to-point WebRTC calls between two processors may not need any media processing in the core, Adensamer says. But, he adds, there are many situations that will need media processing, such as situations in which WebRTC-to-SIP interconnections are involved.
To address that, Radisys this summer came out with the MPX-OS, which is the foundation for all Radisys media processing products and configurations, including the MPX-12000 Broadband Media Resource Function and Software MRF. The new OS supports KVM virtualization for cloud deployments; Radisys is working on that front with Genband. Its technology is embedded in Genband’s SPiDR WebRTC gateway, which sits at the edge of the network and provides open, web-centric APIs that allow application developers to leverage the rich communications services of the telecommunications network – including voice, video, presence, shared address book, call history, instant messaging, and collaboration.The MPX-OS also features support for the VP8 video codec, which is the codec defined in the WebRTC standards.
Weemo also has introduced a solution that allows for interoperability between WebRTC and non-WebRTC environments and devices, says Soufiane Houri, head of product at Weemo.
Interoperability and interworking between WebRTC and non-WebRTC solutions, and between different WebRTC solutions, were key themes of the many demos at this summer’s event in Atlanta. But the real WebRTC interoperability challenge – beyond Chrome and Firefox, of course – is the lack of support for the technology in all the popular browsers, said Linden of Google. On the up side, he added, people are becoming more and more used to having more than one browser. Even his parents have two browsers, he added, so perhaps some browsers not supporting WebRTC is not as huge of an issue as it seems.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi