Dave Michels
Dave Michels is a Principal Analyst at TalkingPointz. His unique perspective on unified communications comes from a career involving telecommunications...
Read Full Bio >>

Dave Michels | July 16, 2013 |


Is Skype a WebRTC Killer?

Is Skype a WebRTC Killer? Ending the Skype app directory and desktop API may be Microsoft's attempt to steal WebRTC's momentum.

Ending the Skype app directory and desktop API may be Microsoft's attempt to steal WebRTC's momentum.

Skype recently informed its developers of its intent to end its app directory this fall and the entire desktop API at the end of the year. Many are seeing this as just the way Microsoft approaches its products: closed. But really Skype has always been closed. The desktop API allowed for third parties to interact with the client, not the network. Client APIs are consistent with Microsoft's approach, so why end Skype's API and store?

I think the answer lies in the building momentum of WebRTC. Many believe WebRTC is a Skype killer because it provides many of the same capabilities (real-time IM, voice, and video), and does so as an intended open standard. WebRTC potentially brings seamless real-time capabilities to every Web-connected endpoint. You can't really compare WebRTC directly to Skype, as one is a set of capabilities and the other is an application, but it is easy to imagine that WebRTC applications will flourish and broadly impact how we communicate.

Microsoft has stated its intention to support WebRTC when it becomes a standard. However, Microsoft could be accused of stalling WebRTC's march to becoming a standard. Standards live in a gray area: They're created out of multiple contrasting opinions; that's the process. It just so happens that Microsoft (and its close partners) are voicing the most objections. Microsoft has also initiated an alternative to WebRTC called CU-RTC-Web. Meanwhile, WebRTC applications continue to increase, relying on the pre-standard support within Chrome and Firefox (but not Internet Explorer).

While many have pondered if WebRTC is a threat to Skype, it may actually be the reverse. It appears that Microsoft may be positioning Skype as a threat to WebRTC.

The promise of WebRTC is a powerful one: Ubiquitous endpoints capable of IM, voice, and video communications. WebRTC poses a disruptive risk to the communications industry. Carriers and UC vendors are approaching it cautiously. Most UC vendors are embracing it as a means for consumers and customers to interact with contact centers, but WebRTC could disrupt the whole UC business model.

Microsoft offers two explanations for breaking what was already working, with its actions regarding the Skype app directory and API: 1) The desktop API is only available to desktop users, and Microsoft wants to provide a more consistent user experience across all Skype platforms; and 2) Microsoft wants users to use Skype URIs instead of APIs.

Skype URIs are similar to APIs, but use HTML as a means to activate a Skype call. For example, applications with phone numbers or Skype names can launch the Skype client to initiate a call. Skype tells developers: "Skype URIs are the preferred mechanism for integrating with the Skype client, and are supported on iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows (8, 7, Vista, XP), and Mac OS X."

A Skype URI can send an IM as well as initiate audio and video calls. It is not as robust as the desktop API, which enables a broad range of applications such as call recording. However, the desktop API predates the mobile revolution, and Microsoft evidently feels the time is right for a single approach to app integration. Third-party apps will now work through the Skype application via the URI, eliminating the need to certify separate third-party applications in the App Directory.

For a decade, Skype itself has been a separate, stand-alone application. However, Microsoft has been busy blurring the boundaries. Skype is now deeply enmeshed into Windows (Pro/RT/Phone 8). A limitation of the URI approach is that the Skype application must first be installed, but Microsoft is effectively eliminating that risk. Skype is also integrated with Lync, enabling the seamless passing of IM and audio calls. Put it all together, and Skype may be pretty hard to avoid.

If Microsoft and third parties heavily utilize Skype URIs for real-time communications, then Skype and WebRTC begin to look fairly similar to end users. WebRTC promises ubiquity via the browser, but still doesn't have support from Apple or Microsoft. Conversely, Skype clients are available today on Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Kindle, smart TV's, X-Box, and the PlayStation. Additionally, Skype beats WebRTC today with:

* Huge installed user base today (299 million users)
* Directory of users
* Native PSTN (and SIP) capabilities
* 100s of millions of Skype-enabled mobile devices.
* Native integration with an enterprise calling platform (Lync).

WebRTC can still claim an advantage with openness, but realistically, open hasn't been the winning bet in communications. Simplicity, ubiquity, and support seem to trump open in most contests.

Neither Microsoft nor Skype will actually stop WebRTC. It is inevitable that the browser will support real-time communications without plugins. However, Skype could steal its momentum. This year, Skype will deliver a considerable amount of what WebRTC promises. Conceivably, even competitive UC solutions could initiate calls over Skype with a single click.

Skype is positioned as the universal communications service that is Web-friendly, high-definition, device-friendly, ubiquitous, and global.

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.

Follow Dave Michels on Twitter and Google+!
Dave Michels on Google+


July 12, 2017

Enterprises have been migrating Unified Communications & Collaboration applications to datacenters - private clouds - for the past few years. With this move comes the opportunity to leverage da

May 31, 2017

In the days of old, people in suits used to meet at a boardroom table to update each other on their work. Including a remote colleague meant setting a conference phone on the table for in-person pa

April 19, 2017

Now more than ever, enterprise contact centers have a unique opportunity to lead the way towards complete, digital transformation. Moving your contact center to the cloud is a starting point, quick

July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.