Welcome to WebRTC

Feature Story

Welcome to WebRTC

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  June 17, 2014

If you’re reading this supplement, chances are good that you’ve already heard about WebRTC. But, like much of the rest of the industry, you may not be completely clear about what WebRTC is, where it came from, why it’s important, and where it fits into the larger communications picture. So here’s a bit of background to get you prepped for the rest of this WebRTC supplement and for WebRTC Conference & Expo IV, which takes place June 17 through 19 at the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta.

What It Is

WebRTC stands for web real-time communications. The technology allows for real-time voice and video interactions from a web browser or other peer node without requiring special client software or requiring a server between the two endpoints.

It takes the components of a typical VoIP media engine into a browser or any other peer endpoint with a simple API that a web server can control. That means developers can build real-time communication into web pages, and do so more easily than they could’ve in the past.

Where It Came From

The seeds of WebRTC came from Global IP Solutions, a company that provided the technology to such large VoIP companies as Avaya, Cisco (News - Alert), Nortel, and others. Google purchased GIPS in 2011, and shortly after that made its technology open source, which kicked off the WebRTC movement.

Google (News - Alert) has been a leading advocate of WebRTC ever since, and today supports WebRTC in its Chrome browser. (WebRTC is also supported in the Mozilla Firefox and Opera browsers. There’s no word yet on whether Apple (News - Alert) and Microsoft will support WebRTC in their browsers, which is an area of much interest.)

The WebRTC ecosystem and community continue to grow. 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, and it continues to snowball.

Why It’s Important

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. Nonetheless, prospects for the technology appear bright. For instance, ABI Research (News - Alert) expects 4.7 billion WebRTC devices to be out in the world by 2018. (For more on what to expect for WebRTC, see our story in this supplement about the WebRTC Outlook 2014 Report.)

WebRTC is interesting not only because it enables two endpoints to easily connect and conduct rich media sessions including data, video, and voice, or some combination thereof, but also because it puts us on a path to what Phil Edholm (News - Alert) of PKE Consulting LLC calls the webification of communications.

“The webification of communications is not a single technology, but rather a transformation of the basics of communications,” says Edholm. “Instead of having a single server that manages all of my communications, the webification process will free me to interact directly with millions of web servers to manage a succession of independent communications events, each tuned to the specific needs and requirements of the event, not an arbitrary vendor paradigm. Just as we all have hundreds of different web information experiences monthly, each web communications experience can be defined by the suite hosting the event.”

Where It Fits

The possibilities for WebRTC are endless, but some of the first places we are seeing it in use are in customer care/contact center, and conferencing applications.

“WebRTC applications will both delight and amaze us,” says Edholm. “While many WebRTC implementations will be extensions of existing communications solutions, many will emerge that will use WebRTC to deliver communications in contexts we have yet to imagine.

“The change of communications from a separate service or capability to being integrated with applications and other activities will become obvious,” Edholm says. “With this we will see the emergence of asymmetrical communications solutions where the experience is different dependent on the role of each individual.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle


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