WebRTC Expert Feature

August 24, 2015

Is WebRTC Ready to Go Mainstream?

By Special Guest
Bill Lewis, co-Founder of Temasys Communications Pte Ltd

Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC) is seeing widespread adoption, albeit in a quiet revolution. In the next two or three years millions of people will be using communications tools and applications powered by WebRTC in their daily lives. The experience will be distinctly different from the use of many communication tools and apps today; due to the adoption of communication tools that are embedded in the Web experience (website of mobile)  voice, video and data sharing will be more seamless than today and will be an integral part of any transaction.  

While large global players in the unified communications space will use WebRTC as a matter of course, this is just one specific application. We will see sectors that are already undergoing disruption, such as education, health, e-commerce, using embedded Web Communication change even more;  voice and visual communication will create a natural and integral behavior  with no downloads, no Flash Plug Ins and no switching to Skype, because the communication tools are already embedded in the browser or mobile equivalent. Much like the “On Demand,” instant gratification paradigm has created new “Uber-like” business models, so WebRTC will infiltrate and enable new industry solutions and create new paradigms in telecom, commerce, military, government and anything that touches our everyday lives. To satisfy the demand for this technology, “Platform as a Service” vendors, such as Temasys Communications, are building full stack WebRTC infrastructures that enable businesses to “plug and play” Web Communications into their exiting websites and mobile sites and presence.

In May of 2012, Google first announced that it was incorporating a new method of communications into the Chrome Browser, called Web Real Time Communications (WebRTC). Mozilla followed suit and incorporated WebRTC into the Firefox browser.  Since that time, the WebRTC code in the browsers has become stable and a large number of developers, worldwide, have been building simple communication tools into Chrome, Firefox and Opera. WebRTC has spawned a plethora of conferences, experts, commentary, and has worked its way through the early stages of the hype cycle. Is WebRTC here to stay? Is WebRTC going to become mainstream? Is WebRTC the future?

WebRTC, what is it? How can it be used?

In simple terms, WebRTC allows engineers and developers to build into an existing or new website, functionality that allows seamless voice, video and data to be sent from within the browser, to another recipient’s browser. The call can be one to one, or one to many.  There is no need for any separate applications to be downloaded. No need for special video conferencing equipment. High quality video, voice and accompanying data transfer is available at your fingertips.  

You can envision a world where students just click on their school’s intranet to attend tutorials or lessons, patients consult with doctors in the Clinic’s website, customers can speak directly to a customer service representative and show, in real time, a problem they are experiencing. Rail engineers can communicate from thousands of kilometers away from base on a mobile device, to get in touch with their senior engineers at an operations center; similarly Aircraft Engineers and Ships Engineers can “show and tell” and accelerate problem solving.  All this is done without having to download a single application. No Skype, no Polycom, no Cisco, no Flash, no Facetime, no cumbersome legacy applications to contend with. Simplicity in communications.

Why is it not big now?

With such dramatic promise, businesses, organizations, and the global population of developers should have been falling over themselves to completely revolutionize how we communicate and by now, we should have WebRTC as the default communications tool replacing all the apps out there and even consigning the plain old telephone to oblivion. Right?

But this has not happened quite so obviously, and therefore the question needs to be asked—what is going on? 

Quiet revolution

WebRTC is a quiet revolution. It is being incorporated in multiple channels of communication without fanfare. Apart from the obvious where Google uses WebRTC in Hangouts, Citrix uses it in their Go to Meeting product, and Uberconference uses it in their global voice conferencing service, Norwegian Telco giant Telenor launched a popular video chat service (appear.in) on a WebRTC platform which has thousands of users worldwide. Additionally, one of the world’s largest telecom operators AT&T has embraced WebRTC and in April, 2015, Facebook announced that it was ditching the agreement with Microsoft to use Skype for voice and video calling and going to WebRTC. 

Two of the world’s largest Unified Communications players Cisco and Microsoft have both announced plans to incorporate WebRTC in their service offerings. IBM has a WebRTC version of their IBM Connections on the table. WebRTC is going mainstream.

Image via Shutterstock

WebRTC as a concept is deceptively simple. Tweak a few lines of JavaScript code and an engineer could have a simple video chat page working in a browser with just a few hours of effort. Indeed this is true and countless developers have played with the concept and built simple apps for their own use, or created video chat services to share amongst their friends.   But this seeming simplicity misses the point on at least two levels: the “use case,” and the need to make any application of WebRTC “enterprise class” or “telco grade” where large businesses can adopt the technology without fear of it being fractious and disruptive in an operations sense. (“Disruptive” in a WebRTC sense means allowing for new business models and applications to be created, which goes without question.) Enterprise grade public cloud (and private cloud) platforms are now available for businesses to essentially plug and play WebRTC into their customers’ interfaces and across their internal intranets.

Looking at WebRTC as a voice, video and chat replacement in the world of Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) is a given, as can be seen by the recent adoption of the technology by the major UCC players. WebRTC is a core technology in the UCC space for incumbents and new entrants. However, the ability to embed voice and video in a company’s public website, or intranet creates a high quality means of communication in any context and it is in this “contextual communications” manner WebRTC will disrupt the B2B, B2C, and C2C communications and create new business models.   

Beyond unified communications

There are many areas beyond UCC that are in a phase of significant disruption, which WebRTC will accelerate. For example, take three sectors where the traditional face-to-face communications model is being replaced:  e-learning, e-commerce, and e-health.

In e-learning the traditional classroom, and tutor-student co-location models are being replaced, or at the very least complemented, by Learning Management Systems (LMS) which focus on content, distribution, and e-learning. Today real-time visual communication in e-learning generally relies on third-party applications; the next step is that the Web-based eLearning platforms will build in WebRTC enabled communication channels as an integral part of the service offering—encapsulating content, delivery, teaching (pre-recorded and live), and online small group tutorials into one Web-enabled user interface. Expect to see this is both education and corporate training.

In e-commerce, 110,000 websites generate revenue of meaningful scale on the Internet. Over 60 vendors provide e-commerce platforms to enable these sites.   Some sites are aggregators (e.g. Alibaba, and Amazon) while most are single company sites reaching global audiences. Beyond the 110,000 there are millions of sites, the purpose of which is to inform and communicate (between business and customer). It is possible to envisage future e-commerce platforms incorporating direct communications between buyer and seller via the seller’s website—be that on Web or mobile, courtesy of WebRTC.

In health, the applications for “telehealth” fall into three areas: remote consultation, remote monitoring, and remote surgery. The latter (remote surgery) has numerous technical and operational challenges and is not seen as large scale; however, remote consultation and remote monitoring is moving on an upward trend to video and voice enablement. Often the purview of specialist and expensive equipment, the trend to simple, but high quality Web-based consultation is accelerating and WebRTC adoption is starting to create a presence.

Enabling wide adoption

As WebRTC, still in an infancy, moves to wider adoption, the challenges of how to deliver WebRTC voice, video, and data at a scale and with a level of certainty that can create confidence in enterprise users has been addressed by a number of specialist companies that have invested in research and development to both understand the “scale and quality” complexities, and find ways of delivering to businesses of different sizes, from the mega-corporation to the SME. Creating QoS standards of reliability on platforms intended to support tens, or hundreds of thousands of concurrent users in global locations is something that demands the resources of companies with the technical prowess and financial resources of, for example, major UCC vendors or large telcos. Or, it requires the brave hearts of technology entrepreneurs with vision and creativity, married to a dedicated team of top-class engineers.  

Ah yes, but what about Internet Explorer and Safari?

Did I hear you say “yes but it doesn't work on Internet Explorer or Safari”? Well, that is an almost true statement. Temasys has released a WebRTC plugin for Internet Explorer and Safari, which is issued under license to a number of vendors/users in the WebRTC space. Microsoft announced at the end of last year that it will incorporate WebRTC through the evolving ORTC standards work in a near-term version of Internet Explorer.

Technology entrepreneurs

Offering a WebRTC Platform as a Service for public or private cloud deployment, all of those businesses wishing to accelerate into the WebRTC space and disrupt the status quo in their own industries, improve how customer service is delivered, use visual enablement to accelerate business processes, or create new disruptive products and services in the web and mobile field, can avoid the costly development of WebRTC infrastructures and almost eliminate time to market by the use of a well-defined WebRTC Platforms.

About the Author: Bill Lewis, with Tom Preststulen, is co-Founder of Temasys Communications Pte Ltd. Although retired from the Board and Executive, Bill remains active in supporting the company and writing and evangelizing about WebRTC and Temasys. He is active in a number of entrepreneurial ventures in Europe and Asia.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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