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WebRTC Applied

Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is a collection of protocols and APIs that enable real-time communication over the Web -- it's pretty self-explanatory. Most everyone in our industry will be familiar with WebRTC by this point, as it's been a hot topic for years, touted as promising technology for B2B and B2C interactions. It's simple, if your business has a website, WebRTC can help drive more interaction with that website.

As technologies have evolved to give organizations more options for communicating with customer bases, customer expectations have also risen. People today expect seamless, straightforward interactions online, and WebRTC-enabled communications promise to meet these expectations with an end-to-end, high-quality user experience.

However, the application of this developing technology is met with a degree of uncertainty. What's the future of WebRTC, and is it going to bring the next-level online communication we've been waiting for?

To explore these lingering questions around WebRTC, I interviewed Felix Winstone, director of Talkative, a U.K.-based company that enables the real-time communication between businesses and their customers through WebRTC-enabled technologies. Its mission is to "convert website visitors into customers." Felix answers questions on the benefits of the technology for the further development of online communications:

How do you view WebRTC?

WebRTC is a transformative piece of technology that allows real-time communications over the Web. WebRTC is not an application, but rather should be thought of as infrastructure. What if anybody with a browser or mobile device could set up a video call and collaborate, without needing special applications or having to download plugins? WebRTC on its own is merely a technical achievement, albeit an impressive one. Its true value is as an enabler for great new solutions.

How can a business's customers benefit from WebRTC?

Consumers want hassle-free and effective contact. WebRTC-based customer contact bypasses the need to use a telephone to speak with someone. Consumer frustration with call centers stems from the fact that agents tend to have no context as to why you are calling them. WebRTC calls pass through relevant website data with your call, meaning you're put through to the right agent, and that agent knows what pages you've visited, and any account information.

Are there any implications to the integration of the technology?

WebRTC is supported by all browsers, so very little 'set up' is needed. Typically, just a few lines of code is required to add WebRTC to a website. You can also get the calls to ring through into your existing phone systems.

What are the technological challenges WebRTC faces today?

For the last few years, adoption by Apple on iOS and Safari platforms were a big question mark. Many people had uncertainty about when, if ever, Apple would adopt WebRTC standards. Luckily, in September Apple included full support for the protocol on all its devices. This is a significant step for WebRTC, and we will now see even greater usage and applications built around the protocol.

Where do the WebRTC-enabled communications stand when it comes to security and quality of the interaction?

WebRTC mandates that all communication is encrypted, so everything is secure. The most popular, high-quality audio and video codecs are supported as well. The main thing to watch out for is bandwidth availability. This is less of a problem for voice, but video can consume greater bandwidth. Luckily, there are ways to safeguard against this. For online customer service scenarios, you should look for a WebRTC solution with Quality of Service monitoring to ensure optimal experiences for your customers.

How is WebRTC going to impact the future of communications? Is this the beginning of an era where interactions are taking place exclusively online?

I'd argue we're already in the era of the majority of interactions happening online. There has been a meteoric rise in ecommerce and customer-facing websites in the last 10 years. However, telephony is lagging behind. WebRTC now allows these real-time voice calls online. If you consider the advantage of multi-media, data-rich communications that WebRTC allows, I think it's inevitable that all our chat, voice, and video interactions will happen exclusively online.

What are the disadvantages of the VoIP technologies employed prior to the development of WebRTC?

In the context of online customer service, WebRTC is in many ways the first of its kind. Before WebRTC-based services, as a consumer you had to rely on your telephone. Leaving the website, dialing a number, and being put through to someone who has no context of your online journey isn't the best experience! WebRTC solves this.

Overall, the implementation of the WebRTC technology has the potential of unifying telephony and online communications while providing the ultimate seamless user experience. As its current limitations are expected to be resolved in the near future, there's pretty much no reason as to why online businesses shouldn't consider offering their customers the ability to communicate via a device and a network of their choice.