The Webification of UC
WebRTC represents the convergence of UC with the World Wide Web. It's a big step away from PSTN, and big step towards any-to-any rich communications.
We used to speak of convergence. Initially, the context was physical, running voice and data over the same wires. That battle was won, and the term's popularity subsided, but we never stopped converging aspects of communications.
Over the past decade, convergence continued as the most powerful and predominant force in communications. We converged the networks, staff, departments, servers, management systems, and clients. But that wasn't enough. Now, with WebRTC, we are about to converge the domains of real time communications with the Web unlike anything before it. It is going to happen, possibly rapidly, and it threatens key established assumptions and models.
All modern enterprise communications systems leverage an architecture that includes a media server and a control server. The media server, for lack of a better term, supports the physical connection of audio and video calls, while the control server provides access to features and directory services. WebRTC is no different in this fundamental architecture. However, it is disruptive because the control server can be housed on a web server or integrated with a local directory.
WebRTC will impact the communications industry, but it didn't come from Bell or the ITU. It comes from the Web, and has no notion of PSTN, TDM, or dial plans. WebRTC is a clientless architecture, but not for the reasons that you might think. WebRTC is peer-to-peer, thus WebRTC can exist in the network without any "servers" or "switches" needed. WebRTC enables on-demand collaboration--not just within an organization but across the web. SIP is also peer-to-peer; however, it was architecturally co-opted to look and act like a client-server application. Because the PSTN carriers do not control Internet directory services, they cannot co-opt WebRTC.
Another shift in paradigm with WebRTC is the concept of identity. Rather than centrally managed dial plans, WebRTC maps identity to the website supporting the directory services. If you use multiple web sites, then you can have multiple identities. Facebook, LinkedIn and American Express can each offer different user identities and experiences on the same browser--much the way website user accounts are supported today.
The expected result is that WebRTC will let the telecom cat out of the bag. Instead of a contained master/slave relationship between telecom servers and telecom endpoints, WebRTC transforms virtually any website into a telecom server and utilizes the web itself to connect to virtually any web enabled endpoint. Not to mention it will add a slew of approximately 9 million additional developers that will begin building telephony applications. The WebRTC-enabled browser will effectively drop the cost of UC endpoints to zero, and offers a default, ubiquitous endpoint. No downloads, no clients--just rich audio and visual communications.
The vendors will still license various UC features, but they will be freed from the burden of creating or licensing UC clients--nor will enterprises need to distribute and maintain them. WebRTC-enabled browsers could potentially replace the need for separate UC clients. This will dramatically simplify the work required for the UC vendor to create unique clients, as well as for organizations to distribute and maintain them. Vendors that already have browser-based clients will find this to be a natural and smooth transition. Many that do have browser implementations are already implementing SRTP, iSAC, iLBC and VP8 (WebRTC software components) within their products so that the transition to WebRTC will be smooth.
Pre-standard WebRTC-enabled browsers are available now: Chrome R23 was released in November, Ericcson's Bowser browser was released in October, Opera Mobile last August, and Mozilla is expected next month. Today, browser-based applications generally require a downloadable plugin, an added step which seems trivial, but becomes problematic with larger implementations.
But the bigger opportunity lies in communications across organizational boundaries. There's no requirement to implement federation capabilities, meaning WebRTC enables rich communications with external users, particularly when enabling communications between web-enabled customers and call center agents.
A study by BIA Kelsey revealed that 97% of purchasers of new products or services first research their purchases online. There's no reason to go from a detailed web page to an IVR only to re-navigate with the same logic. A single click could engage a properly routed call that conveys contextual information.
Next page: Examples of WebRTC-based solutions