Real-time peer-to-peer communications is hardly new, so most people would imagine that there’s little to get excited about when it comes to new developments in this area. They’d be wrong. The promise of an up-and-coming standard, WebRTC, is indeed worth getting excited about.
WebRTC is an acronym that stands for “Web Real-Time Communications,” and it’s actually a standard: a free, open project that enables rich, high quality, real-time communication applications to be developed in the browser via simple Java APIs and HTML5. In essence, it’s a technology that will make it much easier to communicate over the Internet: it will allow Web users to use click-to-text or click-to-call buttons, video conferencing and other Web-based communications technology with no need to first download an application or a plug-in. The WebRTC API was developed at Ericsson Labs and later donated to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards group.
While most tech-savvy people use peer-to-peer, Web-based communications almost daily today, they still require the download and installation (or use of, if it’s been preinstalled) of a special app or plugin, which takes a lot of spontaneity out of the communications media. Not so with WebRTC, which will allow anyone, at any time, using almost any platform, to initiate peer-to-peer communications over the Web instantaneously.
It’s not quite ready for its close-up. In the short term, early mobile adopters of WebRTC will be hit by performance issues of the WebRTC video codec VP8, reports wrote Formtek’s Dick Weisinger on the company blog. This codec is relatively new and no chipsets currently support it, which means that mobile devices will initially be burdened with encoding and decoding communications in software. If WebRTC catches on though, it’s not likely that there won’t be chipsets available, writes Weisinger.
Support for WebRTC is also patchy among the nation’s biggest tech stakeholders. Not all browser makers and technology companies are on board with the standards (most notably Apple, which has sent out mixed messages on its willingness to fully embrace WebRTC.) While the stakeholders are still tinkering with the WebRTC standard, the general public is getting a preview of it with the release of updates on two popular browsers: Google’s newly launched Chrome browser, and in January, the new version of Mozilla’s Firefox.
Once the initial issues are ironed out, however, it’s likely that the WebRTC standard will replace most other methods of peer-to-peer communications while at the same time taking the annoyances and complexity out of the process. Expect 2013 to be the year that most people first hear about WebRTC.
Edited by Rachel Ramsey