December 22, 2014

Present & Future: WebRTC

WebRTC has not been around very long. The IT community is still figuring out what to do with WebRTC, where it should be applied, and how it should be supported. There are lots of opinions about WebRTC.

To learn more, I interviewed Chris Vitek, WebRTC Evangelist at Genband. He is responsible for Genband's global solutions marketing for WebRTC, Kandy (platform-as-a-service) and SPiDR (web RTC gateway).

Chris, how long have you been involved with WebRTC?

I started working with web real-time three years ago. Since then I've worked on a number of projects as an independent consultant. In June of this year I joined Genband to help get their WebRTC products and platforms off the ground.

Would you provide a short history of WebRTC?

Web real-time communications is based on the software that Global IP Solutions developed in the late 90s. This software remains in use in many products manufactured by Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Yahoo and many others. Google purchased Global IP Solutions four years ago and then began efforts at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to produce standardized and open source software. Google and Mozilla have now embedded WebRTC in their browsers. Plug-ins for Internet Explorer and Safari are available from several companies. Genband has taken the initiative to develop RESTful interfaces for android and iOS devices. As a result, WebRTC is generally available on any of the popular computing platforms, tablets, and smartphones connected to any IP network.

What is the present state of WebRTC deployment?

Deployments are becoming more common. We are seeing broad adoption in the financial industry and recent adoption in the insurance industry. Healthcare is also pursuing WebRTC applications.

How are Apple and Microsoft dealing with WebRTC?

Recently, the IETF reached consensus regarding the mandatory to implement video codecs for WebRTC. Specifically, they will require that VP8 and H.264 video codecs be implemented. While Microsoft, through its subsidiary Nokia, remains convinced that Nokia has an intellectual property claim against VP8, Google has offered a royalty-free license to anyone that chooses to implement VP8. Cisco did the same with H.264 late last year.
Several companies including Genband have released plug-ins for Internet Explorer and Safari.

What this all means is that Apple and Microsoft can continue their current position while other people make money off of their platform. I don't think this situation will go on for too long given the revenue and profit motives of these two companies.

Microsoft announced a rebranding of Lync. The name was changed to Skype for Business. I think there's more to this story related to WebRTC.

Object RTC (ORTC) is a free, open project that enables mobile endpoints to communicate with servers and web browsers with Real-Time Communications (RTC) capabilities via native and simple Javascript APIs. Google agreed to include it in the 1.1 release of the WebRTC specification. Earlier this year Microsoft again began seeking ratification of their ORTC specification.

Although Apple continues to be reticent about their goals, Microsoft would appear to be triangulating on broader usage of web real-time communications.

Who is benefiting from these deployments?

The key beneficiaries at this point appear to be the software manufacturers. The Genband Kandy platform-as-a-service allows these manufacturers to embed communication tools within their interfaces at little or no cost. Usage fees are a penny a minute for video, audio, text and screen sharing. Typically, these manufacturers can integrate communications tools into their interfaces within minutes after accessing the website.

In the near term, who is making money from WebRTC?

Several service providers that are testing WebRTC cloud services and/or WebRTC gateways. For these carriers it's a matter of maintaining customer
relationships by implementing-services that are higher-quality and easier to use than existing Over-the-Top solutions.

In the longer term who will be making money?

By tapping into a new form of distribution with software manufacturers Kandy has developed a distribution network. Further, the traditional telecom buyer will be attracted by very low pricing, ease of implementation, disaster recovery solutions, and rich collaboration tools that can be extended beyond the edge of traditional networks.

Will the term WebRTC no longer be important to enterprises since it will be embedded in applications?

I think that it will become "real-time communications" or simply "RTC." Most software manufacturers are referring to it as a widget or RTC widget. The web part just seems unnecessary.

How are service providers using of WebRTC?

The primary use case is for toll-bypass for international dialing. Airtel Mobile in India fielded a private label version of "fring" to 100,000 users. "fring" is an Over-the-Top (OTT) mobile IP communications service, which works across all major smartphone platforms.The project was successful and they are now building the infrastructure to support 300 million users.

Are enterprises using WebRTC?

Enterprises appear to be at the early adopter stage. All the financials have a solution or a project underway. Healthcare is starting to become interested. Most enterprises completed their budget cycles for next year. We are already seeing a substantial uptick in WebRTC proposal activity in preparation for 2015 budgets.

What does the future look like for WebRTC?

I think the future will bring greater adoption of real-time communications. Over The Top will soon be the new normal everywhere. Enterprises and service providers will not tolerate long delivery cycles from legacy communication systems manufacturers. These are the concepts that accompany web real-time communications and their changing the way that communications buyers seek solutions.

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