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November 06, 2013

Michael Monroe Talks WebRTC Potential, Development and Impact

It may seem as though the last WebRTC Conference & Expo took place very recently — this past June, to be precise — and yet its follow-up, WebRTC Conference & Expo III, is nearly upon us. With the pace WebRTC is going at currently, though, holding the event only once per year wouldn’t suffice; a year is practically eons for new, exciting technologies.

Indeed, when the next WebRTC Conference & Expo commences later this month — it’s set to run November 19-21 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif. — it will be roughly a year after WebRTC support started appearing in browsers, but the advancements made in that time should make it feel like much longer. A quick glance at the event’s agenda confirms this: WebRTC in relation to the Internet of Things, businesses, applications and even gaming.

Gaming, in particular, will be covered in a panel entitled “Gaming & Beyond,” which will cover the ways gaming can be enhanced with WebRTC. Michael P. Monroe, independent consultant and principal of HEMA, is one of the panelists who will be taking part in this session. WebRTC World recently caught up with Monroe to speak about not only the possibilities of WebRTC with gaming, but communications in general.

With a background in unified communications and collaborations (UCC) solutions, it’s no surprise he had a lot to say.

“There is definitely an emerging market that will leverage WebRTC; since we are a UCC advisor/consulting org - we don’t have a particular product or service that is slated to be built specifically on WebRTC,” Monroe said. “However, we do intend to use (and point out to our clients) the additional resources it brings to collaboration/video communications apps.”

BYOD is one area that will see the impact of WebRTC, especially considering the large number of existing mobile Android users and the competition that has sparked in personal device selection. As upgrades occur, the newer browsers will support WebRTC and we can expect corporate IT to have policy challenges keeping these enabled devices on or off the network, Monroe explained. Because the apps will likely be interactive, the browsers will be conducting voice and video calls (with data sharing) and that opens up a whole range of possibilities and potential problems for IT; a savvy corporate IT apps dev team may decide to launch a business app or two to harness the power of WebRTC and push it out in an internal app store for mobile users.

A big player in the development of WebRTC standards and browsers has been Google, but Monroe doesn’t believe Google will gain more of a presence in the device world just because of WebRTC. WW: Do you expect you are going to see Google gain more of a presence in the device world?

“Chrome 29 + usages will be one way to gauge the adoption/consumption if users do more peer-to-peer video or voice calling,” he said. “Not sure how that can be measured outside the corporate environment. We can expect all the Google apps stack to be capable of using the gamut of the WebRTC offerings. Who knows, perhaps Google creates a new device that brings all of the best of WebRTC together. With the demise of BlackBerry, perhaps there’s a way to give those users/loyalist a bridge to the WebRTC promised land. But the Android app dev community will certainly benefit, the sure number of Android powered devices is staggering so we anticipate a lot of apps that can use the resources associated with the API.”

One aspect of WebRTC that is hard to ignore is the lack of Apple and Microsoft commitment to deliver WebRTC in their products. Since HEMA is not a products firm, it doesn’t really care what Apple’s or Microsoft’s position is now.  

“As a services and advisory org, we see their entry as a laggard opportunity – when it comes. Their lack of initial support is a ‘tree hugging’ reaction. There is absolutely no doubt that they will both support WebRTC in some fashion, at some point,” Monroe said. “Since they have products that are threatened by the capabilities inherent in WebRTC, they are slow to sign on. Apple has Safari /FaceTime to protect, and Microsoft has Skype/Internet Explorer – but when the installed base of Android, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Oracle ... and the app dev communities are arrayed against them they will certainly find a way to embrace WebRTC even if they don’t do it publically with products. We need them to do that because their users will want to take advantage of the gains WebRTC will offer the marketplace.”

So, Monroe is pretty confident that the adoption of WebRTC and support for these capabilities will eventually grow to every device and browser. However, adoption from IE and Safari will be lagging the front runners, like Google, Mozilla and Android.  

He believes the gaming industry, B2C, enterprise/corporate/SMB accounts, B2B and the Internet of Things/Everything – including Machine to Machine (M2) applications -- will be a huge consumer of the power associated with WebRTC.

“Consumers are driving the industry, so the ground swell of pressure will come from user expectations,” he said.

WebRTC represents a specific implementation strategy in the enterprise. Monroe says the technology is perfect for enterprise accounts, especially in the unified communications and collaboration products and services spaces.

“With the continuing adoption of cloud delivered models and the need to measure consumption along the lines of productivity, this is a given. The CapEx vs. OpEx discussion is brought into focus and enhanced by WebRTC because so much can be done in the browser vs. on premises with expensive servers, software and the associated support,” he said. “This is a winning OpEx play, when coupled with session initiated protocol (SIP) and gateways - we see a robust opportunity to protect the legacy investments and move toward a cloud-enhanced solution useable by nearly any corporate or SMB account.”

A big topic being discussed in the industry right now is codec standards. Google is a supporter of VP8, while Cisco just announced plans to open source H.264. Not being a product developer, HEMA is not as concerned.

“Whether it’s VP9, H.264/H.265 is not a real concern – however we are aware of the cost associated with these technologies as it pertains to the royalties that are required,” Monroe said. “Clearly, royalty cost affects the mobile device providers. Overall if VP9 is as big of an improvement with video on mobile devices as its being touted - it could lower the cost of streaming media usage and help mobile devices with poor network connections.”

We also discussed data channel capabilities and expanding the multimedia experience, which Monroe believes is a “tremendous attribute” of WebRTC.

“The ability to ‘host’ a text or binary data session as well as the video/voice session is a huge, almost hidden benefit. Apps will be able to use the data channel feature set in video games and peer-to-peer connections between devices, so M2M might benefit greatly. There will be a host of use cases that emerge to leverage WebRTC and data channel,” he said.

State of WebRTC

Although WebRTC is still in its early phases, it’s not an especially innovative or brand new technology. Some people believe we’re in different places in terms of the adoption curve, and some believe WebRTC is all hype. Monroe believes WebRTC is still an innovator/early adopter phase technology.

This is backed by the fact that he still has to explain what WebRTC is to potential customers very often. But, part of the fun, he says, is showing them the value proposition, discussing the nuances – both pros and cons – and ultimately figuring out when and where they can take advantage of gains that will be made when implementing a WebRTC based solution. Pioneering and innovation has it rewards – education is a requirement.

“The excitement in the space will be fueled by the applications, devices and companies that jump on the API and deliver value to consumers and the enterprise. We are well past the hype phase and yet in a sense the market has not fully embraced the technology in terms of building net new solutions on it – so we are clearly not in the tornado segment just yet,” he said. “Perhaps the ‘bowling alley’ phase may be the best description, but we’re not sure we have one clear leader or dominant player unless that is Google. When Microsoft and Apple get on board in some fashion, things will accelerate even more rapidly – they cannot afford to miss the revenue associated with the offerings that will emerge - which is exactly why they will ultimately get on board within the next few product revs. Be assured mass adoption is coming, so at the pace we call Internet speed we are right around the corner.”

The upcoming WebRTC Conference & Expo will cover many of these topics related to WebRTC, how enterprises and customers can benefit from its potential, and moving forward with the development of this technology.

“The conference is critical to the education we are talking about,” Monroe said. “Nowhere else in the industry can the potential customers and developers find more quality information on WebRTC in the space of a few days at a single location. The expo component is the ideal complement to the education because we can see real-world applications of the technology by some of the best and most progressive companies in the Industry. The bi-directional interaction that occurs in these events leads to more and better products and services enriching the market and validating the technology.”

Monroe will be panelist discussing the use cases of WebRTC beyond gaming, a session he expects to be interactive, informative and visionary.

“There are so many possibilities that can one day be enabled, that we will be hard pressed to contain ourselves – as you can see we are excited to be a participant,” he said. “We believe so strongly in the benefits to be derived from WebRTC that we sincerely want to be an ongoing, vocal part of what is shaping up to be the next strategic inflection point in business and consumer communications. Since we have been a part of the creation, launch and maturation of other technologies like VoIP (IP Telephony), cloud delivered, multi-channel contact center and cloud managed video services – it’s natural for us to seek an education and desire to make a contribution.”

Monroe is hopeful that developers and contributors will be able to show the industry and potential clients what WebRTC is all about, the progress it has made in a very short time, why it matters and how it can enrich businesses and perhaps our lives.

Learn more from Monroe and about WebRTC in just a few weeks in Santa Clara. Visit www.webrtcexpo.com to learn more.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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