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WebRTC: Is it a Game Changer?
A couple of weeks ago at Enterprise Connect, I moderated a panel on voice (and video)-enabling browsers for real time interaction. For those of you who have access to the recordings, it is well worth taking the time to listen in. The topic revolves around a new technology initiative known as WebRTC.
WebRTC is an effort, started by Google, to build a standard-based real time Media Engine into all of the available browsers. Using the technology it acquired in the acquisition of Global IP Solutions (formerly Global IP Sound), Google has created an open source version of the WebRTC Media Engine and implemented it into Chrome. With WebRTC in a browser, a web services application can now instruct the browser to make a real time voice or video connection to another WebRTC device or to a WebRTC media server using RTP. With a HTML5 and WebRTC enabled Browser, a soft client is nothing more than HTML pages from the sever as the visual interface, with WebRTC APIs and Media Engine to define the communications path.
With the signaling and protocol standards coming from the IETF and the APIs for app developers from W3C, now communications can be defined and delivered by millions of Java Script developers, not just by a small number of SIP developers and VoIP systems vendors, as has been the case. The first WebRTC-enabled browsers, Chrome and Mozilla, will come out later this year; in fact, the current Chrome browser has WebRTC hidden behind a flag, but the capability is there for testing and trials.
What this means for communications over the next five years could be merely interesting--or could be transformational. Obviously, for contact centers the impact will be significant. With the majority of contact center interactions being preceded by a website visit, the change will be immediate. If each web page has a real-time communications object, the flow from the web information structure into the contact center work flows can be tightly integrated. This will quickly lead to convergence of the contact center with the website teams in many organizations.
The impact for UC and general communications and collaboration may be much more significant, but longer term. For existing vendors, the ability to easily support soft clients on a range of devices will enhance their ability to deal with the exploding BYOD revolution. For example, within the Android environment, there are over 50 distinct versions/products to deal with. With WebRTC, a vendor should be able to build a small number of versions of HTML linked to device screen size and use the common WebRTC for media. The task of supporting a range of devices is reduced by at least an order of magnitude.
However, this raises a very interesting question: If I want to communicate with you, and your "system" supports direct guest access using WebRTC, then I merely point my device browser at your server and, assuming you are available and want to interact with me, presto...we are interacting. I am not using a client from my server, but one from yours through HTML and WebRTC. Similarly, a "web conference" can now be hosted by just sending the URL of the hosting server and having the attendees join. The value of us all being on the "same" system (i.e., the same vendor's system) may be dramatically reduced.
Potentially, WebRTC and HTML5 could enable the same transformation for real time that the original browser did for information. In 1990, the challenge was to have servers interact to move information between individuals. Email (and to some degree, IM) is the last remnant of that era. After the browser emerged, the interactions process changed to the end user pointing the browser at the server where the information or application resides. Similarly, WebRTC may enable me to point my browser at your server and interact with you without having system-level federation.
The result of this change, combined with search to find the places to point at, created the Internet revolution that has changed industries, societies, and politics. Can WebRTC and voice/video enabled browsers be the genesis of yet another transformation? With a certificate from LinkedIn indicating we are connected, can I now communicate with you on your server with a simple browser?
A detailed white paper on the technology, standards, possible applications and impacts and barriers to adoption for WebRTC is located on the PKE Consulting website.