WebRTC Expert Feature

October 27, 2014

Microsoft Finally (sort-of) Joins WebRTC Community

After a lot of speculation, Microsoft finally has jumped into WebRTC.  Development “has begun” on the ORTC API for WebRTC, the company announced via blog.  Let’s see how long it takes for Microsoft to start shipping production code.

“We aim to make browser-based calls more convenient by removing the need to download a plugin,” wrote Shijun Sun, Senior Program Manager, Internet Explorer. “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.”

Anyone involved in WebRTC over the past two years has to laugh (or cry) a bit at Microsoft talking about its “aim,” since Google, Mozilla and Opera have been preaching the ideal of browser-integrated audio and video for a couple of years.  Real-time support for that new device from your browser?—Amazon and Samsung are already there, Microsoft!

This announcement isn’t all happiness. While pushing the ORTC API for WebRTC and touting it going into Internet Explorer (IE), it is pushing H.264 as the primary video codec, snubbing VP8.  Microsoft will support Opus, G.722 and G.711 for voice to “enable the greatest experience for a broad variety of endpoints.”

H.264 is getting a big push from traditional enterprise players such as Cisco.   Opus is already in Skype while nearly everyone supports G.711. About the only surprise is G.722, the de facto standard for HD voice on IP desktop phones and a variety of cloud services.

Sun says Microsoft is just at the beginning of WebRTC implementation in IE, with the company working “closely” with the web community to improve “other existing standards” for video interoperability, including features to adapt to changing bandwidth conditions.

There’s also potential foreshadowing of new services, as Sun lists “easier interoperability” between browsers and “billions” of existing communications endpoints, including SIP-based VoIP endpoints, the public switched telephone network (PSTN), and video teleconferencing systems.  Connecting SIP end points and the PSTN smacks of (billable) cloud services Microsoft could sell, either run internally or sold via third-party.

Video teleconferencing services are an entirely different challenge.  Blue Jeans Networks offer interoperability and transcoding services between video endpoints, but internetworking and transcoding video between different (and mostly proprietary) systems has been a long term headache for the enterprise community.

The more that I think about Microsoft’s promises for voice and video interoperability in a WebRTC-emerging world, the more I begin to wonder if the company is shopping for a Blue Jeans-like company to provide it quick access into the video interoperability market.  Being able to interconnect high-end video conferencing solutions – even from the same vendor – across different broadband networks would be a service corporate customers would be happy to pay for.  

Bridging WebRTC to the high-end video conferencing world is something that enterprise customers would love to work with.  If Microsoft is able to find a way to do so in the course of adding and expanding its WebRTC support in IE, it could find itself in a leadership position.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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