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March 18, 2014

10 Things You Need to Know About the Future of WebRTC

People following the WebRTC industry typically fall into one of three categories: they’ve heard of WebRTC and believe it’s going to disrupt communications; they’ve heard of WebRTC and think it’s simply hype or they’ve never heard of WebRTC. At this week’s Enterprise Connect in Orlando, Fla., the panelists in a session on the future of WebRTC definitely fall into the first two, and have interesting views on where the technology is headed over the next few years.

Brent Kelly from KelCor, Inc. and Irwin Lazar from Nemertes Research led a panel about the future of WebRTC as a market breaker or maker on day one of Enterprise Connect. Phil Edholm from WebRTC World and PKE Consulting, Eric Krapf, the co-chair of Enterprise Connect and editor for NoJitter, Kevin Kieller from EnableUC and Lawrence Byrd from Altocloud all joined in to discuss how WebRTC will grow (or not) and the impact it will have on businesses, end users and service providers.

1.Understand what WebRTC is not.

“WebRTC is not the end of world hunger,” Edholm led off, which was fairly obvious to every person in attendance, but the point he was trying to make is this is not an “end-all” type of technology. It’s a piece of the puzzle – not the entire puzzle itself – in the transformation of communications. It’s also important to note that WebRTC is not a client or service, as WebRTC has been referenced as “Skype in the browser.” It’s a technology enabling the type of service Skype offers, including real-time communications via video and audio, but it also enables use of the data channel and sharing data via peer-to-peer connections.

2.It’s always about the user experience.

When it comes down to it, WebRTC is a technology used to enhance a service or application. If it’s in the contact center, it’s a way to enable agents to improve their service for customers. If it’s for medical, it’s a way to make healthcare and doctors more accessible to patients. WebRT C developers still have to focus on how signaling, network connectivity, training, multiparty conferencing and more will all impact the end user experience.

3.Communications is becoming Webified.

Krapf asked the audience, “When I step back and look at it, communications enabling any browser…how can that not be really significant? How can that not be really important? Communications is totally Webified.” Also in a morning session, Cullen Jennings from Cisco stated that WebRTC is the biggest change that’s happening on the Internet today.

“In terms of what the Internet as a network and Web of connectivity…being ubiquitously reachable over easily accessible interfaces is more important than just about anything I can think of,” Krapf said.

4.The value is in the applications.

WebRTC is another piece of the communications toolkit, the panelists said. What businesses and developers do with that toolkit is what is making the technology valuable – they’re creating and building solutions where communications is something anybody can now include. Companies are using the Web and mobile to change their business processes.

Byrd explains there are three groups enabled by WebRTC. Previously it was about the telecom vendors, but now in an HTML5/JavaScript/Android/iOS world, everyone has the ability to put communications in their apps without going to a communications company. They’re turning to the cloud and embedding APIs, which is empowering a whole new generation of people to put communications in their apps, he said. So, the second group is the companies using the cloud to come into the enterprise, and the third group is anyone adding communications to those applications.

Kieller says WebRTC is under the covers -- you won’t know whether it’s H.264, VP8, Opus or other codecs and technology powering solutions. WebRTC will be an option, but it doesn’t fundamentally change communications: the thing that changes is the focus on APIs.

5.It will hit your enterprise one way or another.

Krapf compares WebRTC as a similar trend to the BYOD movement, and advises people to have someone playing with this in their networks, because it’s going to hit the enterprise one way or another. It may not change everything for you this year, but the main theme of the panel’s discussion was that WebRTC is a valuable tool in transforming and enabling communications – something that will definitely happen in the future, so businesses should be ready.

6.WebRTC is about the transformation of communications.

Edholm compares the WebRTC market right now to 1992, when people were getting a first look at the Web browser. It’s a cool technology that does the same thing for communications that the original browser did for information. “Will the ultimate outcome be the same WebRTC we have today? No more than it will be the same browser you used in 1992,” he said. “WebRTC is about changing the fundamental model of communications.”

He also says with absolute certainty that everyone is overestimating the short-tem impact and underestimating the long-term impact of WebRTC. He says everyone in the audience needs to ask themselves, “Do I want to get ahead of this, or be the guy who advocated for AOL?”

7.Thinking from the top down vs thinking from the tech up.

Despite Edholm’s unwavering belief in WebRTC as the transformation of communications, Kieller argues a different way of thinking using WebRTC as part of a business model.  He says you need to figure out what business value you will provide -- figure out the “what” -- and then find a solution for how you will do that – the “how.” If it leads you to WebRTC and you can experiment with things that give you great new ideas, then fine, he says. But he says approaching WebRTC with the mindset of using that to disrupt communications or business models is starting at the wrong place. The comparison to HTML was thrown around throughout the panel discussion, and Kieller uses that in his argument for top-down thinking. People didn’t say bold tags would necessarily disrupt the Web – it was what applications could be developed and delivered, and then HTML features came into play.

On the other hand, Edholm says the opportunity to transform communications comes from understanding the technology to understand the possibilities. “You need to understand how this applies to your business, and how it can give you an advantage of sustained competitiveness,” he says.

8.Critical mass adoption is about marketization.

If you talk to major vendors about WebRTC, they’re all either offering a solution or will talk to you about how they’re incorporating it in their business strategy. It’s not those companies that are acting as a barrier to mass adoption of WebRTC – they’re all doing WebRTC and will tell you about their plans, Byrd says. The marketization of WebRTC will come from other companies – the WhatsApps, the social tools – that can showcase valuable use cases and solutions and exhibit the value from applications (see No. 4).

9.The money is in different places.

Edholm explains there is a huge amount of money in the Web, but it’s not in the same place it was before. There are tools and pieces people buy to run Web systems – companies like Oracle, IBM and HP provide hardware and software to support the underpinnings of the Web. There are huge opportunities to make money with WebRTC from a service perspective, he says. There will be services that support multiuser environments and security, for example.

Krapf agrees, saying if you can provide something on your website, on your online presence or internally that transforms the way people interact with you, that’s definitely money. Does it have to be WebRTC according to the standard or will it be a missed opportunity if every browser doesn’t support it? Those are things we’ll be talking about for years, he says.

10.WebRTC is not overhyped.

“If it was, you all wouldn’t be here,” Krapf said.

We’ll be keeping up with everything happening at Enterprise Connect this week, so be sure to check back in for updates about the world of communication and collaboration. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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