Will WebRTC Go Mobile?
Both the old stalwarts like AT&T and the newcomers like Talko find themselves facing a world where communications will occur across devices via interfaces that may or may not look like the telephony interfaces of old, across networks that truly are treating voice as just another type of IP traffic.
Ask anyone in the industry for a one-sentence definition of WebRTC, and it'll likely sound something like this: "WebRTC enables real-time communications via the Web browser without the need for plugins." Ask that same knowledgeable person which is the dominant model for the Mobile Web -- browsers or apps -- and they'll tell you it's apps.
Taken together, these two facts should suggest that WebRTC has, at best, a limited role to play in the mobile world, particularly within the app environment. And yet, I've seen a few indications that WebRTC actually will be important in mobile apps.
Our friend Tsahi Levent-Levi, who's one of the leading analysts/consultants in WebRTC, has just come out with a new white paper addressing this issue, "WebRTC Adoption in Mobile Apps." (Tsahi will also be leading a session on this topic at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2015.) As he always does, Tsahi offers a wealth of detail on the technology options, and pros and cons of each, when it comes to using WebRTC in developing mobile apps. My main takeaway from Tsahi's report is that WebRTC is being implemented in mobile apps not because the apps necessarily always need it (not being browser based), but because both mobility and WebRTC are fundamental building blocks for next-gen communications applications across device and network types.
One of the examples Tsahi cites is the high-profile Ray Ozzie startup, Talko. This app famously is Ozzie's attempt to re-imagine enterprise voice communications from a mobile perspective, and Tsahi cites several technical reasons why WebRTC made sense as one of the core technologies for Talko's app: The work Google has already put into the technology (meaning Talko wasn't starting from scratch), plus WebRTC's ICE support for NAT traversal, and the availability of the Opus codec. But the strategic reason that Tsahi cites is that, "Using WebRTC embedded in their mobile first application enables Talko to just 'drop' it into the web when the time comes to extend the service to browsers. This is in Talko's plans."
AT&T also seems to be recognizing that WebRTC -- and all it implies for carriers -- is going to be a part of the communications world in which it must fight for mind- and wallet share. This month AT&T announced support for a WebRTC API, and I was struck by this quote from the No Jitter post on the announcement. Carolyn Billings, associate vice president of AT&T's developer program, told No Jitter managing editor Beth Schultz:
"This is a profound shift in terms of over-the-top capabilities, and whether carriers are eager to support it or not is rather beside the point. There are already billions of browsers out there supporting this. Voice calls are no longer going to be under the control of carriers--and we view this as an opportunity to create data and promote use cases. We want to be at the forefront of the change. "
Of course, the real test for AT&T will come when talk like that comes from the C-suite or at least product VPs, not just the head of the developer program. Still, whether those top execs admit it yet or not, we're making progress toward the point where voice calls are, in fact, no longer under the control of the carriers -- which makes AT&T's move a step in the right direction.
Both the old stalwarts like AT&T and the newcomers like Talko find themselves facing a world where communications will occur across devices via interfaces that may or may not look like the telephony interfaces of old, across networks that truly are treating voice as just another type of IP traffic. The important thing is to equip the endpoint with the range of technologies it may need to access the communications services that the user wants to employ to reach (as they say) anyone, anywhere, anytime.
WebRTC is definitely going to be one of the tools for ensuring that access, which is why in addition to Tsahi's session, we're once again devoting an entire day to WebRTC programming, led by Brent Kelly of Kelcor and Irwin Lazar of Nemertes Research. They're offering a deep dive into the technology, business cases, and real-world examples of WebRTC in the enterprise. I hope you'll have a chance to join us in Orlando and take in some of this exciting and valuable content.