In November, a group of us from Daitan Group attended the leading WebRTC industry event, WebRTC V, held in San Jose, California. The event sparked several conversations between us and our customers comparing the current status and expectations for this technology.
Then we remembered that after we attended the first WebRTC event back in November 2012 we had written about the key takeaways and thought it would be fun to see how things had changed or not over the past 2 years!
1. WebRTC will transform communications for business.
- Millions of talk and video minutes will be transported over WebRTC in the next few years.
- Unless the carriers and large service providers get creative they won’t be the ones collecting the revenue on this new technology.
2014 Reality and Projections
There were several facts and figures presented throughout the conference demonstrating the impact of WebRTC. Here are a few of the published facts:
- Bistri reports over 6 Million minutes of one-to-one video calls from more than 6 months of data.
- Dean Bubley’s report, WebRTC Industry Status & Forecasts Report, 2014 Edition indicates:
o There are 1.5B WebRTC-supported devices today that will grow to 6B by 2019.
o Also by 2019, there will be 2B individual users.
o More than 10 telecom operators have some WebRTC related service, and telecom operators could have as many as 500M WebRTC users in the next 5 years.
Our own EVP of Sales and Marketing, Graham Holt, sat on a panel discussion relating to WebRTC and Carriers which concluded that there is, as of yet, no creative new services leveraging WebRTC. The Carriers’ role as bitpipes is still generating revenues for them but we continue to question if they are moving closer to the bottom of the value/revenue chain.
2. WebRTC is innovative but not creative.
The undisputed, most significant impact of WebRTC has been in video conferencing. There are as many as seventy-seven video conferencing solutions available today along with enterprises implementing video conferencing in their existing communications services. Using WebRTC, business communications are rapidly changing to provide easy access to web conferencing for employees and their customer related contact centers. This is basically innovating old or existing communications methods proving the point that WebRTC is not creative.
Maybe it’s enough to give WebRTC credit for being a game changer in other ways. After all, WebRTC provides developers with the fundamental building blocks for plug-in free, high-quality, real-time communications in a browser such as voice and video chat applications and that’s no mean feat.
However, history has shown time and again that a “new medium” is typically misused to replace the old medium in the same applications before finding its true new place in the world. Remember, “The medium is the message”. (Marshall McLuhan).
3. WebRTC for mobile is hard but worth the effort.
In our 2012 blog, we stated that there were several reasons that WebRTC for mobile is difficult and specifically mentioned the lack of support for the VP8 codec in hardware. Several mobile devices are now shipping with VP8 support in hardware which has a significant positive impact on power consumption and performance.
There are still some big challenges which have led to the development of mobile SDKs implementing WebRTC. While this is good news in some ways it rather kills the idea of no plugin, no download.
For the optimistic we may believe that things will change soon. Industry reports coming from the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) RTCWEB working group meeting, state that a compromise has been reached to make support for both H.264 and VP8 mandatory for browsers. As reported by Andreas Gal, chief technology officer at Mozilla, “This compromise was put forward by Mozilla, Cisco and Google. The details are a little bit complicated, but here’s the executive summary:”
- Browsers will be required to support both H.264 and VP8 for WebRTC.
- Non-browser WebRTC endpoints will be required to support both H.264 and VP8. However, if either codec becomes definitely royalty free (with no outstanding credible non-RF patent claims) then endpoints will only have to do that codec.
- “WebRTC-compatible” endpoints will be allowed to do either codec, both, or neither.
This is a major step forward for developers as it provides interoperability with any WebRTC endpoint alleviating the need for transcoding as well as ensuring better performance, costs and even battery usage.
For mobile, this still does not solve all the issues. So our statement that WebRTC on mobile is hard but worth the effort remains true today.
4. WebRTC needs to integrate with existing business communication systems.
Back in November 2012 we wrote:
“Another popular subject of interest was interoperability with existing communication standards. WebRTC will provide a great platform for many new communications applications to be embedded into websites and other web based applications, and in many cases these can be complete end-to-end solutions using WebRTC. Companies today, however, have already made a huge investment in their communication systems for customer interaction, such as call centers, CRM integration, etc., and for their own workforce.”
In 2014 we believe this is still the case. As WebRTC evolves even more towards web architecture and away from telecom architecture the most common request we get at Daitan is for SIP interconnect and interop with legacy video endpoints. Interestingly, the first project we executed in WebRTC was a signaling and media gateway to allow interop with legacy video endpoints which was soon followed by requirements to interop with MS Lync. Interop is now much more feasible as this capability is appearing in commercial off the shelf SBCs, Media servers and gateways.
5. WebRTC is coming to a browser near you
WebRTC should be available as a standard in your favorite browsers by the end of 2012. This was a stake in the ground that most were claiming at the 2012 event, including us. In 2014 many people are claiming that “WebRTC should be available as a standard in your favorite browsers soon” and it seems to be now more feasible with recent announcements from Microsoft and Google.
In October, Microsoft joined Google and others in support of ORTC (Object Real-time Communications) API for WebRTC, opening up real-time communications development for Internet Explorer. Shijun Sun, senior program manager for Internet Explorer, explains in the October 27th IE Blog, “We aim to make browser-based calls more convenient by removing the need to download a plugin. It’s all about convenience – imagine you’ll be able to simply open IE and make a Skype call to friends, family, or get real-time support for that new device right from your browser.”
There are still open questions about video codecs and how compatible different implementations of ORTC might be but let’s all hope that interop will soon be a reality across the major browsers.
The final cornerstone will need to come from Apple to have Safari and iOS join the WebRTC ecosystem.
6. WebRTC is not a “one size fits all”
In 2012 and even today, there is the consensus that WebRTC is a great contribution to communications technologies but it is not a fit for all of the existing or traditional communications infrastructures and services.
Douglas Tait, director of Telecoms Markets at Oracle, outline three areas where WebRTC has what he refers to as “The Chasm” between WebRTC today and its potential.3 These include:
o Identity, authentication and authorization
o More user name and passwords
o Network Denial of Service
- Reliable network solutions
o Lose sessions on browser refreshes or network issues
o Lack of support for large networks with many sessions and many connections
o Between networks
o Browser and devices
o Voice and video media
o Policy, charging, or internet traversal
From this list, it isn’t hard to see why WebRTC is not ideal where there are significant security concerns such as in 911 or highly regulated communications systems. While it may not be a fit for all communications services, it has had a significant impact on customer facing web solutions that extend companies’ customer service and sales capabilities.
Although we were off on a couple of our predictions of WebRTC’s impact, the advancement of this technology of WebRTC has been extraordinary in the last two years. It is easy to fall back to the position that WebRTC is just a technology but we continue to believe in Marshall McLuhan’sclaim that “the medium is the message.” If proved true, then in this case it will mean another significant change in human communications.