WebRTC Expert Feature

November 20, 2014

Cisco H.264 Video Endpoint Calls Firefox Browser via WebRTC


Cisco and Mozilla want to make sure everyone knows H.264 is on the WebRTC support list. The two companies jointly demonstrated a straight-line video call between a WebRTC application and Cisco H.264 video hardware endpoint at the Cisco Collaboration Summit this week.   While purists might not like it, the collaboration opens up a wider world of business video interoperability.

H.264 for video is like G.722 for audio within the enterprise - an old standard built into just about every piece of hardware.  You can find H.264 in numerous desktop phones  with video camera to high-end telepresence systems.

The Cisco-Mozilla demonstration used a SIP URI and a Cisco video endpoint to call a Cisco Project Squared client running in Mozilla Firefox.  The Firefox browser has Cisco's OpenH264 binary model integrated into it, enabling the desktop browser to communicate with the (arguably legacy) Cisco hardware using WebRTC without having to use additional browser plug-ins, additional downloads, or transcoding gear for different video formats.

Efforts to get H.264 compatibility into WebRTC started a year ago, with Cisco open sourcing its H.264 implementation and offering a binary model that companies and developers could integrate into their products. Last month, Cisco worked with Mozilla to get the H.264 binary model into Firefox.

WebRTC purists have tried to stick with VP8 as the mandatory video codec, but enterprise-focused vendors such as Cisco and Microsoft saw the need to support H.264 for the business world.   Companies can now use their existing base of H.264 hardware to seamlessly communicate and collaborate with any WebRTC client or service.

Cisco has already built a service, Project Squared, around WebRTC , to provide a fully featured communications experience.   Teams can post messages, share content and conduct video calling from any Android, Apple iOS, Macintosh or PC .  Mozilla is adding the Hello service to Firefox, enabling people to put up contact lists and make WebRTC voice and video calls directly, with TokBox providing the back-end server support.

The Cisco-Mozilla announcement comes on the heels of Microsoft's rush to embrace WebRTC and rename everything communication-enabled as Skype.  At the end of October, Microsoft announced it was rolling WebRTC into Internet Explorer (IE).  Earlier this week, the beta of Skype for Web was released, enabling Skype voice and video calls directly from a web page.  Everything will be linked together using WebRTC, including the newly re-branded Microsoft Lync, now known as Skype for Business.

Two companies are losing ground with the latest WebRTC announcements.  Apple is on its usual slow-boat to support WebRTC some day, but by the time it gets around to it, Microsoft will once again have locked up the enterprise space.    Polycom may have more significant concerns.  Cisco has played a leadership role in supporting H.264 for WebRTC and likely has more extensive products and services in the works.  Polycom doesn't have a compelling story to tell around WebRTC at this point in time, other than "let's wait until the hype dies down" and "We're working on WebRTC bits and piece within the enterprise." 

The next twelve months are going to be critical for  the WebRTC community.  New powers will rise, and old empires will fall.  Acquisition-hungry Mitel is probably shopping for a WebRTC company and who knows what deals are being discussed in smoke-filled rooms.  It's going to be fun to watch.

Want to learn more about the latest in WebRTC? WebRTC Conference & Expo is happening now in San Jose, Calif. Stay in touch with everything happening at the event -- follow us on Twitter.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi




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