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Eric Krapf
Eric Krapf is the Program Co-Chair of the Enterprise Connect events, helping to set program content and direction for the...
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Eric Krapf | January 08, 2013 |

 
   

WebRTC and Real-time Communications on the Web

WebRTC and Real-time Communications on the Web How will the new standard for voice-enabling websites relate to web-voice efforts from Facebook, as well as the reigning champ, Skype?

How will the new standard for voice-enabling websites relate to web-voice efforts from Facebook, as well as the reigning champ, Skype?

WebRTC is one of the hot technologies in communications, offering a promise that's easily stated and understood: WebRTC voice/video-enables Web browsers. That means any Web browser that supports WebRTC is, inherently, a voice/video client, potentially changing the game--the Web becomes inherently two-way multimedia, and in the future, new applications become possible that go beyond just the idea of a Web browser as a Skype-like multimedia client.

So what is this really going to mean for the enterprise?

I found a really great overview of the framework in which WebRTC is likely to evolve in the worlds of vendors, service providers, website owners (what we used to call e-commerce), and last but not least, end users. It's authored by Chad Hart, who not only works for a vendor (Acme Packet), but has a product marketing title. Don't let those two things put you off--this is an objective, clearly-written description of what is developing and what's likely to develop in WebRTC. Chad tackles questions like, Will WebRTC be a service or a feature? A standalone product or built into existing products? The answer to both these questions appears to be Yes; the industry will have to go from there.

In the enterprise decision-maker's world, the first concerns about WebRTC are going to be around where you can use this technology. Clearly there's a play in the contact center, in a click-to-call scenario with a WebRTC-enabled "happy button" on the website ("Happy button" is a term that Chad embraces but that I personally hope has a short life span.) That's the outward-facing scenario; the inward-facing scenario centers on how you use WebRTC to serve your own end users. This could occur by WebRTC-enabled browsers becoming UC clients talking to WebRTC-enabled communications servers, essentially standardizing the means for any UC client to talk to any UC server, regardless of vendor. Just by stating the opportunity that way, you can see both why it's desirable, and why, for at least some of the vendors, it could be problematic.

It's important to note here that WebRTC isn't the only game in town when it comes to two-way multimedia over the Web. The most important competitor today is, of course, Skype, which has a huge installed base. But the fact that Skype is owned by Microsoft, and that Microsoft also controls one of the market's leading browsers, creates a whole host of side issues that are beyond the scope of this post but that will surely be covered in great detail in a lot of places over time.

There's also a new twist to the story. As Zeus Kerravala writes this week, Facebook is offering voice messaging over its site, and is trialing a Skype-like VOIP service on Facebook for Canadian users. Zeus rightly notes that Facebook could easily make itself one of the major players in two-way multimedia on the Web almost overnight, if they so choose. Whether they so choose will likely depend on whether they can find a revenue stream in the service.

How do Facebook and WebRTC relate to each other? In theory, Facebook could standardize on WebRTC for its VOIP service--and for applications that run on Facebook. That'd be a big boost to WebRTC, and in theory it could open up a whole new aspect to the applications and games that you currently annoy your Facebook friends with. Facebook could be the platform over which you play Words with Friends, with a voice channel to trash-talk your opponent's vocabulary. Maybe you could use it to call your cows back to the barn in Farmville, I don't know.

Such developments would give Facebook extraordinary control over the future of WebRTC--both direct control, in terms of dictating how the standard evolves and how it's implemented in products; but also indirect control: The perennial concerns about Facebook's terms of service, security, and overall business practices would influence how their communications service would be regarded, and so would likely influence how the public views the whole idea of communications over the Web.

We'll be exploring many of these issues during our Conference-within-a-Conference on "WebRTC in the Enterprise" at Enterprise Connect 2013. Brent Kelly and Irwin Lazar, who are chairing this day-long program, are starting to fill out the sessions, so please check out the program as it evolves here.

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