WebRTC: Disruption, Opportunity...and Hype (Part 1)
Is WebRTC a big deal for the customer, who can already make a video call now via an over-the-top application? Actually, yes.
Run an Internet search on the term "WebRTC" and the endless results might lead you to conclude that the telco industry is on the brink of an innovation the level of which we have not seen since Alexander Graham Bell picked up the first viable telephone and said, "Mr. Watson, come here...." The WebRTC standard has the potential to spark disruptive technologies, and service providers and application developers alike are preparing for the impact it will have on their product roadmaps. Web real-time communications will change the way the market views voice and video calling via the Internet, but industry watchers need to carefully weigh what is real and imminent opportunity, and what is just hype.
A massive expansion in the developer community
Essentially, WebRTC is a framework that includes several APIs--HTML5, Java, and others--that let users make voice and video calls directly from their Web browsers. Callers can do that now, to a degree, but it requires elaborate maneuvers on the back end or legwork for the user on the front end. Either the carrier has to tie together adjuncts to enable click-to-call functions, or the developer of voice and video Web applications needs deep knowledge of session initiation protocol (SIP) and VoIP.
So is WebRTC a big deal for the customer, who can already make a video call now via an over-the-top application? Actually, yes.
WebRTC means that anyone who can program Java or build a website will be able to deliver calling capabilities. The API will do the heavy lifting as far as signaling and media. People who don't know the first thing about VoIP will be able to build communications applications, and that is worth the hype that WebRTC is generating. There is the potential for millions of new developers to play a role in creating the future of communications.
The part customers will likely notice first is the ubiquity of the content they can access and the communications they will be able to initiate. The browser-to-browser calling that will come with WebRTC means devices themselves will become less important. A consumer won't necessarily decide whether to call from a cell phone or home phone; he will simply log on from whatever device he wishes.
That flexibility extends to content as well. If a customer subscribes to a service, WebRTC allows her to consume it from any Web-enabled device: an Internet TV, a tablet, a smartphone, a smart refrigerator--anything.
The present and the future of WebRTC
So what does it mean for the industry if consumers can contact each other directly on any device they wish via their Internet browsers? In a recent survey of service provider executives and application developers, we found that 87% of respondents see WebRTC as a major factor in where their products will go next. The majority of the 169 respondents see the browser-based capability of this standard as disruptive--an important finding given that more than 1 billion browsers will likely support WebRTC by the end of the year.
The unified communications segment of the market is paying close attention to WebRTC developments, since the technology will speed the convergence of audio, video and collaboration functions. The work to stay competitive in the age of WebRTC is happening now, even if the capabilities themselves are still in the yet-to-go-live category.
Alexander Graham Bell did not invent the modern telephone in a day, nor did he do it alone. Multiple innovators toiled over multiple decades before that first voice call was successfully placed. The process is moving far faster with WebRTC, but it is still a process. The market will have to solve difficult interoperability hurdles and other challenges before WebRTC has its "Mr. Watson, come here..." moment and the realities of the technology catch up to the hype.