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AT&T Wants In on a WebRTC-Enriched Future

WebRTC, as we've talked plenty about here on No Jitter and at the annual Enterprise Connect conference, is poised to change communications as we've long known it by enabling seamless calling browser to browser. That's convenient enough, but wouldn't it be even better if all our favorite call functionality could come along for the ride?

AT&T thinks so.

You may have heard a couple of weeks back, as did I, that AT&T has released a beta WebRTC API to the developer community. As part of the formal announcement, AT&T noted its status as the first U.S. carrier to support WebRTC in this way. So perhaps, also like me, you wondered at the significance of the move. If you want to voice enable your Web interface, what does it matter whether you're using a carrier's WebRTC API or a toolkit from any other company?


Carolyn Billings, AT&T


Carolyn Billings, AT&T

I got the service provider's perspective from Carolyn Billings, associate vice president of AT&T's developer program. An enthusiastic WebRTC advocate, Billings gave me the lowdown on the AT&T Enhanced WebRTC API, as it's officially called, and shared her vision for WebRTC-fueled communications of the future. AT&T is hoping to move the API from open beta to general availability this quarter, Billings said.

Beyond the Basics
AT&T started with the core W3C WebRTC standard, the by-the-book way to support browser-to-browser, peer-to-peer voice calls, video chats, and file sharing. The WebRTC standard lets developers use the AT&T API to enable voice calling from browsers on PCs, tablets, and smartphones to other browsers, but beyond the standard, AT&T decided to see what else it could do to allow developers to get creative within a WebRTC-enabled voice call, Billings said.

So with the enhanced AT&T API, developers can enable calling from browsers out to ordinary 10-digit phone numbers on any PSTN or mobile network. And, on top of that, they can weave in advanced call functionality -- "call forward, hold, resume, switch, transfer... all that kind of stuff," Billings said.

Also coming into play is the integration of AT&T's wireless signaling infrastructure and WebRTC communications. Through the AT&T API, developers will be able to assign credentialing value to AT&T mobile numbers so that subscribers can make or receive calls from within an app using their existing numbers if they should so desire. In essence, this is Caller ID for WebRTC, Billings said. In addition, the API provides a way for developers to let users move a call that starts on a PC, Mac, or tablet, transferring it to a smartphone.

Breaking Down the Barriers
As an example of the mobility enhancements, Billings talked about how this might come into play within the gaming industry., explaining that game developers could use such programmability as they deepen their mobility strategies. A mobile player who calls into a WebRTC-enabled gaming session will be recognizable by name, for example.

"All of WebRTC is about breaking down the barriers to communications. The AT&T API takes that a step farther," Billings said. "Now both parties don't have to be browser to browser, but rather we're supporting any communications-enabled endpoint to talk to any other communications-enabled endpoint."

Not surprisingly, the bulk of early interest in the AT&T API has come from developers working on contact center applications and "looking at different ways to convert, enhance, and manipulate phone calls," Billings said. Another customer service use case could be a mobile dinner reservation app like OpenTable or Urbanspoon using the Caller ID capability to dial out to a mobile phone and establish a call with a diner who is making a reservation that has special requirements.

With WebRTC, the voice (and video) experience is going to change dramatically-- and I think it's fair to say that AT&T's decision to provide this toolkit and encourage third-party use clearly signals that it doesn't intend to sit on the sidelines and watch how it all plays out. Billings put it this way:

"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. "

AT&T is hoping to move the API from open beta to general availability this quarter, and Billings said she herself can't wait to see the innovations spurred by WebRTC-enabled communications as both third-party and internal corporate developers get busy using the API:

"Dare I dream this will one day be as ubiquitous as GPS? It certainly does have that kind of cool, functional appeal that can enhance a range of applications."

For a WebRTC deep dive, attend the conference-in-a-conference at Enterprise Connect Orlando: WebRTC: Is It Ready for the Enterprise?

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