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 | December 23, 2014 |


Why Cisco's Project Squared Requires Firefox

Why Cisco's Project Squared Requires Firefox As of today, Firefox offers the most versatility for WebRTC, with support of two video codecs, including Cisco's beloved OpenH264.

As of today, Firefox offers the most versatility for WebRTC, with support of two video codecs, including Cisco's beloved OpenH264.

It's a familiar drill with WebRTC: A new application that provides browser-based, real-time communications works in Chrome -- and sometimes Firefox, too.

The "browser-based, real-time" of WebRTC has a nice ring to it, but frequently includes an asterisk that specifies Chrome. What kind of standard is this WebRTC? -- a contentious, proposed one, that's what kind. Chrome supports Google's vision of WebRTC plus added signaling services, and Firefox supports a narrower implementation of the proposed standard.

Last month, Cisco unleashed Project Squared, a WebRTC-based application that provides asynchronous and real-time communication services including video. Project Squared works in the other leading browsers but requires Firefox Version 3.3 or later to access the real-time components. It just might be the first WebRTC application that only works with Firefox for real-time communications. Blasphemous?

Butting Heads
It all started about a year ago when Cisco introduced the concept of OpenH264 as a video codec specification for the IETF's WebRTC standard (because, contrary to popular belief, the VP8 video codec is not part of that standard). The WebRTC video codec spec had been the primary point of WebRTC contention, also known as the Great Debate of 2014. The Google camp wants VP8, a potentially free and open codec. Cisco and many others prefer the predominant H.264 codec, which requires licensing and royalties.

Cisco felt so strongly in favor of H.264 that it published OpenH264 along with an offer to foot the bill for any company that uses it. Likewise, Google felt so strongly about VP8 that it removed H.264 support from Chrome. Both Internet Explorer and Safari support H.264, but not WebRTC.

Mozilla, a nonprofit organization, makes Firefox. Naturally, since Mozilla gives away the browser -- its primary product -- it embraced the free and open VP8 codec. As H.264 requires licensing, it was never practical for Mozilla to include it.

When a Plugin Isn't a Plugin
OpenH264 is free (or more accurately provided at Cisco's cost) and open (published on Github). However, licensing terms restrict Mozilla from bundling Cisco's codec within Firefox. Instead, Cisco and Mozilla devised a way to perform a seamless, direct download from Cisco to the browser after the browser is installed on a client. Evidently the download is not a plugin if the user doesn't manually plug it in.

Firefox has been supporting OpenH264 since October, and still supports VP8 (and other codecs such as Daala). At this time, however, Firefox uses OpenH264 only for WebRTC applications.

Cisco's stated intention is to ensure WebRTC is compatible with the installed base of videoconferencing systems. Along with the Project Squared launch, Cisco demonstrated a non-transcoded video call from a browser to a room system. While this was an all-Cisco demonstration, such video calls should work with other endpoints and applications as well.

Firefox won't be the only browser with WebRTC and H.264 support for long. The WebRTC working group recently recommended that both H.264 and VP8 codecs be included in the WebRTC standard, ending the Great Debate (read WebRTC Video Harmony at Last?). Additionally, Microsoft has stated plans to support ORTC, or Open RTC, in Internet Explorer. Of course, you can count on lots of work and plenty more debates ahead, but WebRTC has made significant strides in the past few months.

Presumably Google will add H.264 back to Chrome. And while Google (as well as Microsoft and Apple) could use OpenH264 as well, it's more likely to continue licensing its own rights to the codec. Regardless, that shouldn't matter regarding compatibility. Since the legality of VP8 is still in question, Google may deliver it as downloaded module in a similar fashion as OpenH264 for Apple and Microsoft.

As of today, Firefox offers the most versatility for WebRTC, with support of two (free and open) video codecs. Expect the other browsers to follow, and watch for more OpenH264-based WebRTC applications -- especially from vendors that make video room systems.

Follow Dave Michels on Twitter and Google+!


Dave Michels on Google+


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

April 5, 2017

Its no secret that the cloud offers significant benefits to enterprises - including cost reduction, scalability, higher efficiency, and more flexibility. If your phone system and contact center are

March 22, 2017

As today's competitive business environments push workforces into overdrive, many enterprises are seeking ways of streamlining workflows while optimizing productivity, business agility, and speed.

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.