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WebRTC in the Real World: Working for Public Safety

Let's just admit that the hype cycle for WebRTC is now officially over, and that it's time to get down to work and show some results -- no more rumblings about whether WebRTC is ready for real applications.

Questions may persist about browser compatibility and other issues in private and public discussions, but WebRTC really is ready for the real world. Let me share an experience where I saw firsthand a WebRTC application working in a public safety application.

Earlier this fall, I had an opportunity to see WebRTC in action at Towson University during a rollout of a mobile public safety application from SaferMobility. Towson, a regional public university outside Baltimore, serves roughly 22,000 students in the liberal arts and sciences, and applied professional fields. Like all universities, Towson is acutely aware of the security and safety issues to which students and staff could be exposed, and strives to minimize them by being proactive.

SaferMobility is the product of a start-up that saw an opportunity to reinvent the 9-1-1 application. As Kevin Mullins, CEO for SaferMobility noted, "the current 9-1-1 system was originally designed for land-line phones that had fixed addresses, allowing the caller's location to be identified purely by their telephone number. In a university or campus environment, virtually everyone has a mobile device with voice and video capabilities. We saw an opportunity to reinvent 9-1-1 and create a mobile voice and video-enabled public safety application that could improve safety."

Building the application was the responsibility of Matt Mah, CTO at SaferMobility. He saw WebRTC as a technology that would dramatically reduce the company's development time and deliver voice and video capabilities on both end-user mobile devices and public safety officer's PC workstations. Matt chose to develop the SaferMobility application using WebRTC open source libraries for the iOS and Android mobile clients, and crafted a managed browser deployment for the PC workstations.

As Matt explained, the SaferMobility architecture comprises three main parts:

By choosing this architecture, Matt gained the multimedia features he needed and avoided many of the mobile and browser incompatibility pitfalls found with WebRTC.

As I saw during my visit to the university, the SaferMobility application is now fully deployed at Towson, with students downloading and registering the client software. With the mobile client, students and faculty can hold real-time two-way text, voice, or video calls with the Campus Public Safety staff via an encrypted WebRTC link. All the communications are logged and recorded via a Dialogic PowerMedia XMS Media Server, allowing retrieval at a later date or as evidence in court proceedings.

The team at SaferMobility has more planned beyond universities, as it eyes what Frost & Sullivan estimates is a $1.7 billion market for public safety and mass notification applications. Kevin, Matt, and their team are working on solutions for medical campuses, banks, large city police forces, and more. The flexibility of the SaferMobility architecture and WebRTC has produced a platform that is adaptable to many different markets and solutions.

My key takeaways:

For more detail, watch this brief video interview for more details from Kevin and Matt :

For more on WebRTC, don't miss the WebRTC Conference-in-a-Conference at Enterprise Connect 2016, coming March 7 to 10 in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NJPOST and receive $200 off the current conference price.