WebRTC World Feature Article

November 27, 2012

Is WebRTC Ready for the Likes of Drum Audio Conferencing?

Business grade audio conferencing has come a long way since its inception. Participants are no longer limited to simply sit and listen, hoping for a pause in the conversation to get a word in; technologies available today like Drum allow users to not only create meetings, but share documents, assign tasks, take notes and manage meetings in one, centralized location.

A division of NetDev Limited, a Brighton U.K.-based independent telecoms application developer, Drum HQ leveraged the audio conferencing and Web technologies expertise of NetDev to develop what it considers a powerful alternative to current collaboration services.

It is this level of collaboration that demands the real-time communications enabled by WebRTC. This open project supported by Opera, Mozilla and Google enables Real-Time Communications (RTC) using a simple Javascript API. It also enables real-time communications between devices and applications without the need to download a separate app.

This technology was essentially designed to support the next generation in audio conferencing – something Drum HQ knows very well.

The Drum Web meeting consists of audio conferencing on the service provider’s network, plus Web meetings hosted by Drum in a centralized meeting space where all meetings are stored forever. All notes, documents and tasks are available for viewing at any time and audio conference recordings can be replayed at any time. And because the application works in the Web browser, no software or plugins need to be downloaded – a concept duplicated in WebRTC.

The open framework provided for in WebRTC supports Real-Time Communications, providing the necessary foundation to enable high-quality communications, including video, audio and even the network components that support audio and video chat applications. Developers are able to implement their own RTC Web app when these capabilities are implemented into the browser. The question now remains whether or not WebRTC is ready to support the likes of Drum and other conferencing technologies ready to take the experience to the next generation.

To see if we could get that question answered, TMC spoke with Claire Marshall, head of Marketing for Drum HQ in conversion. The exchange follows in full:

How quickly do you think WebRTC apps will appear in the market?

Despite the standard being relatively immature, there are many great services that use WebRTC today. Drum is one of them. In the short term, we believe Web application developers will begin implementing WebRTC features rapidly and expect to see many more WebRTC services appearing in the coming months.

Which types of communications will WebRTC provide first – audio, video, text, P-P, conferencing?

There’s a great opportunity for audio conferencing with WebRTC. The first services to take off will be those that bridge the legacy PSTN world with WebRTC, and that’s exactly how we’ve approached Drum’s conferencing capability. Ultimately, the communications that WebRTC will enable are just features of a website or application, and it‘s the development of interactive user applications that will drive adoption of specific types of communication.

Which current businesses or business models will be most impacted by WebRTC?

Certainly the OTT players will be impacted. Their current business models rely on attracting as many users as possible and monetizing through advertisements and up-sell to value added services.   At present OTTs deliver basic voice, video, SMS as the core services with the need for a physical client.   With WebRTC voice video and SMS become features of a webpage and become much more open and accessible. The innovative use of WebRTC enabled communications could remove the need for anyone to use an OTT service again!

The Telcos will also be impacted as their core communications “services” become standardized “features” of the Web.   We’re not saying that PSTN and SIP will die anytime soon, but WebRTC could certainly make a charge on their usage.  

What are the major barriers to WebRTC adoption?

Communications service providers are likely to struggle with the concept of WebRTC as communications mechanism which doesn’t match their existing services, either technically or commercially.   Changing their business models to leverage revenue opportunities from rapidly developed and evolving WebRTC services will be a fundamental change from their lengthy service development and procurement roll-out cycles. Unless they adapt, they could become a significant barrier to service provider adoption. 

On a more general note, the lack of a well defined common security model will also be a barrier, but that’s not to say that WebRTC should solve it.

What is the one thing that would accelerate WebRTC adoption and use?

That’s a bit of a double edged question. 

A set of frameworks providing Authentication, Authorization and Accounting (AAA), which would encompass single identity management and aggregated presence from those identities, would certainly accelerate the appearance of real world WebRTC services and applications. However attempting to build that into WebRTC (rather than on top of it) could stifle WebRTC’s future.

How is your company using WebRTC in 2013, in 2014?

We will continue to use WebRTC to deliver Drum Web meetings. During 2013 we will be developing the Drum Web widget which will enable any business with a Web presence to add Drum meetings to their website or application.

We’re also developing the Drum “contact centre on the Web.” We want to enable businesses websites to become a communications platform, with customers able to call and be intelligently routed to agents directly from the Web.

What benefit do you see to your customers from using WebRTC?

The clear benefit is that Drum users can join their audio conference directly from Drum in the browser. There’s no dial-in access number or PIN for users or meeting guests to remember. 

From the service provider perspective, Drum offers an alternative to web conferencing solutions which are complicated to integrate and costly to deliver and manage. Service providers delivering Drum maintain their legacy (PSTN/SIP) revenues whilst monetizing a Web based service with WebRTC capabilities. Drum attracts non subscribers to the service through the meeting invite process and therefore has a viral effect, meaning new users can be captured and monetized outside of the service providers existing market reach.

How many users will have experienced a WebRTC session by the end of 2013?

Users won’t be driven to WebRTC as a technology. They will be drawn to new and improved ways to communicate. If existing Web applications, with a large global reach, adopt WebRTC the potential is enormous. If, for example, Facebook added WebRTC conference calling as a feature within the app, it has the potential reach hundreds of thousands of users pretty quickly. And that could see the migration of friends and family calls away from Skype into the Facebook application.

Will WebRTC become integrated with Web strategies or will it remain a communications service?

It’s both. WebRTC will see the blending of communications and web strategies. Businesses have new ways to connect and communicate with their customers using their Web presence as a platform for doing so. At Drum HQ we’re already working on a WebRTC contact center solution to enable businesses to handle meeting requests from browsers/customers and route calls to contact centre agents, all enabled with WebRTC.

Is WebRTC closely tied to your HTML5 strategy?

Absolutely! Drum is an HTML5 application with WebRTC capabilities from the desktop. We wanted to ensure that Drum was accessible and available from any connected device and HTML5 delivers that for us. 

What benefits do you see to your development process from using WebRTC?

From a technical perspective, we don’t need as many tools, languages or skills to develop the same type of voice and real-time media applications. It has completely simplified our tool chain.

Will you be incorporating WebRTC solutions into a development framework?

We use WebRTC to enhance existing and new applications and enable browsers as real-time media endpoints to deliver a truly unified communications experience.

We have a development framework for WebRTC which is specialized for our own use. We believe that WebRTC’s future is best served by not imposing a speculative framework around it just yet.

There is a greater value in providing development frameworks to other web resources, which can be used in conjunction with WebRTC to develop richer applications and services. For example, we’re currently working on Drum Cloud files which will integrate Dropbox, Google Drive and Box.net with Drum web meetings.

Why do you think WebRTC is a game changer? 

WebRTC has the power to transform the humble webpage into a real-time multimedia communications platform. 

The web will evolve from a means to deliver static, flat content to a dynamic communications environment delivering interactive user experiences.

WebRTC makes it possible to deliver real-time communications in a way not previously possible. It does so without introducing any additional complexity or cost and opens up opportunities for the developer community to create applications and services rapidly. It is the power of the web, teamed with the large and vibrant developer community that will change and disrupt multi-media communications delivery.

How will the PSTN or SIP interact with WebRTC/HTML5?

Drum is a great example of how PSTN, SIP, WebRTC and HTML5 interact and work together in a real application.

Drum is an HTML5 web meeting application with integrated audio conferencing. Users can join the audio conference direct from the browser with WebRTC or dial into the Drum audio conferencing service over the PSTN. Drum’s meeting control panel displays the audio presence of meeting guests and enables conference controls, including mute/unmute, record and presenter mode. It’s a great example of how all the technologies work together in one application.

Who should attend WebRTC Expo and how will they benefit?

We’re expecting to meet application developers and innovators from the Telco and Web community together with groups and individuals participating in the standard. We’d like to see businesses represented too; we feel it’s important that they understand the potential of WebRTC for business communications.

Edited by Braden Becker


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