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January 30, 2014

SBCs' Role in the Future of WebRTC and Interoperability

WebRTC adoption predictions are all over the place. One week I hear that 2014 is the year of WebRTC, and some days I hear that WebRTC is only scratching the surface; still fragile. I think the truth of the matter is it’s both – 2014 will definitely make a dent in the growth of WebRTC, introducing new players, products and standards, but we’re still a few years away from seeing WebRTC implemented as we envision it, as a disruptive technology for a multitude of industries, including education, healthcare and customer service.

In a panel session at ITEXPO Miami, “SBCs in Your Enterprise Network Infrastructure,” Frederic Dickey from Sangoma Technologies, Steven Johnson from Ingate Systems, Alan Percy from AudioCodes and David Sauerhaft from Sonus Networks discussed the growth of SIP trunking, the role  session border controllers (SBC) in that adoption, security concerns and different trends driving the awareness of SBCs.

For the most part, SBCs seem to be doing great, according to the panelists. They’re critical for interoperability, security and performance measurement, and are helping many enterprises effectively integrate different applications and multiple locations together. The move to SIP trunking is driving the need for SBCs, according to Dickey, but there is still a lot of education necessary – many companies do not know what an SBC is or why they need one.

One part of that education is understanding an SBC’s role in WebRTC. As Johnson explains, eventually an SBC will be viewed by many as a WebRTC-to-SIP gateway. One way to look at WebRTC is as a driver for SBCs, but how big will WebRTC actually get? And how long do we have to wait to see that?

The panelists range—Sangoma has its eye on WebRTC, and understands the potential, but isn’t heavily involved or working on anything specific. Sonus is playing in the WebRTC space but believes it is a little bit ahead of where the market it. Sauerhaft is beginning to see references to WebRTC, but from an SBC perspective, he’s focused on an interoperation perspective.

“We’re committed to make sure we’re going to interoperate,” he said. “We’re committed to make sure we’re going to interoperate and our SBC will be capable of supporting that when the market is ready.”

If you’re familiar with the chasm or Geoffrey Moore, Johnson says we are down at the origin of that graph – or, in other words, just getting started. He’s waiting for someone to do something big with WebRTC, but was recently convinced of the market potential of WebRTC to actually address cost savings, efficiencies and overall business experiences. The two cases that drove this change of thinking were healthcare and education. He explained that if doctors could use WebRTC to interface with patients, such as for follow-up exams or post-op meetings, it might be more effective than bringing them back in and a better use of everyone’s time. Online education is also an industry due for an upgrade, and WebRTC could significantly improve the quality of video and engagement.

He also touched on the impact on customer service – if an airline lost a bag or a hotel messed up a reservation, he said it would have a much bigger impact if there was a face-to-face video experience as opposed to a quick letter or email. “I can see there are some use cases that make some sense. We’re doing more toward getting ready for that,” he said.

Percy agrees, saying we’re in the early hype cycle. Events like the WebRTC Conference & Expo are showing some interesting use cases and demos, but they are pretty fragile. He says AudioCodes’ role is more focused on facilitating integration of WebRTC into existing contact centers and enhancing applications to provide that user interface. He says the bottom line is about providing a place to land those calls that is secure and does transcoding to bring callers from WebRTC into an existing contact center.

“The future of WebRTC is still two, three or four years out, but it will come, and SBCs will play an important role in providing that interoperability,” he said. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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