WebRTC Expert Feature

February 27, 2013

WebRTC: Beware the IETF of March

The IETF meetings are about to occur and some playful skepticism is showing concerns about the WebRTC opportunity.

My cynical friends, point out that we have been enthusiastic about Internet Telephony before so what makes WebRTC capable of avoiding the mistakes of the past?

The answers get complicated.

First of all, like  grade school soccer (aka real football), the crowd gathers and tries to progress toward the goal, but most of the result is sore shins. There are lots of Internet Drafts trying to show value for a company that wants to claim expertise and impact the implementations. In an effort to protect the people who are just doing their job, I will not name names or companies, just call them “legion.”

So far, this is very similar to SIP, which became the largest standard on (in?) the Internet.

There are lots of aspects to SIP particularly signaling that have been skipped (ignored? Deliberately left out?) As our friend Henry Sinnreich would say, “leave the dead to bury the dead.”

However, the message in the media is still enough to bloat the standard.

So the second pitfall is traversing through the end points. When ICE, STUN and Turn were first added to the SIP protocol, it was assumed that a lot of the problem of firewalls and NATs would eventually be solved with IPv6.

This problem gives room for SBCs and PBXs to add features and functions into the standards discussions.

The positive side is we have the divide and conquer aspect with the IETF and the W3C jointly managing the standard.

The Web types have their own baggage of standards problems, but the ability to focus on the browser and the codec allow the standard to steer clear of using the PSTN as an excuse.

The other side is that this is not a standard looking for interoperability beyond the web. The result is that most likely interoperability is not a real concern to many of the implementations.  If we get 2000 Skype-like Web implementations is that a bad thing?

One place where we may see this is in our mobile phone video calls. WebRTC has been all about the codecs that Google contributed to the standard. The legacy of Global IP Sound and On2 Technology is embedded in the VP8 codec implementation from Google and as an open source standard and it has many advantages. However, as a software-based standard, you are forcing the processor to do more work and adding drain and heat to the battery.

The word is that Mozilla / Firefox is bringing an H.264 that matches well to the device specifications and chipsets. This could be a boom for Mozilla to become a preferred browser for mobile. Hence this announcement at Mobile World Congress.  Remember, the dominant device browser today is on Android, and it may be that Motorola will push a hardware implementation of codec.

All of this is independent of the companies looking for solutions in call centers, for remote workers and other solutions that are desktop-based. 

So, we are going to have a standard with a diverse array of implementations and very little hope of interconnection. In effect, it will be just like the web.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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