The WebRTC Wave Is Now Unstoppable

At Enterprise Connect next week, enterprise communications thought leaders will once again debate the impact of disruptive technologies. One such technology, WebRTC, will have its moment in the spotlight in the Monday morning panel, "WebRTC Reality Check: Is This the Year?," moderated by Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research. But while there may be a debate over whether WebRTC will have its moment in the enterprise sun, out in the broader marketplace, WebRTC has been a growing tsunami wave for billions of users and thousands of applications.

There are three primary developments that have powered WebRTC's impact over the last few years:

  • WebRTC has evolved into a rich technology stack
  • Social apps have risen in popularity and use, driving dramatic new consumer expectations
  • A wide variety of disruptive apps have emerged across industries

Let's take a look at each development in more depth.

WebRTC's Evolution

WebRTC is not simply about browsers; it is a fundamental technology stack that has seen nearly a billion dollars of investment from all of the various companies involved. In addition to being built-in to modern browsers, with Apple Safari and Microsoft Edge now on board, WebRTC is available packaged for native mobile apps, desktop apps, and embedded Internet of Things (IoT) apps. Much of the global innovation in the app space has been on mobile, with easy interoperability with browser versions of the app being an additional value-add.

The availability of this rich open source technology stack has been a sea change for enabling disruptive software development. The essential benefit of WebRTC is enabling tightly integrated contextual communications. WebRTC is a building block within whatever disruptive workflows and innovative customer experience models developers can dream up. All communication occurs within the app's context -- who needs to be connected, why, with what additional information, and for what purposes? Communication then becomes a simple one-touch experience that is enhanced with contextual information.

Today, toolkits and communications platform as a service (CPaaS) offers make it easy for the smallest dev team to embed and massively scale WebRTC technology in any way they want, without worrying about infrastructure And it is this emergence of easy CPaaS capabilities that has been key to broadening WebRTC adoption across industries, which I discuss below.

Dramatic New Consumer Expectations

Most of today's consumers -- and especially today's Millennials -- use social apps to communicate with each other around the world, all the time. Mobile apps for these social networks have brought communications into the palm of the hand for well over 5 billion users, according to data from Statista. The cumulative usage numbers for Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, QQ, Snapchat, Viber, Line, Hike, good-old Skype, and many more are staggering.

Consider that every one of these messaging applications now embeds one-touch voice and video communications directly into the app, either by using WebRTC directly or some derivative of the WebRTC stack. Well-resourced social companies, such as Facebook, can afford to have dedicated voice and video communications teams and build extensions to WebRTC and alternative approaches for some of the stack. However, new startups cannot afford to invest in such teams and need ready-to-go, off-the shelf WebRTC, often packaged as CPaaS.

The rise of social platforms like Facebook have set the bar very high. It no longer makes sense to introduce any new kind of social app without rich live communications, as evidenced by apps like Houseparty, Musical.ly, Monkey, and others where WebRTC is a given.

But it's not just social apps. The rise of embedded communications technology in the social sphere have powered an intense user expectation across the board. Every consumer-facing enterprise app is now competing with expectations set by Facebook's user experience; cost-effectively competing with the giants will require proven communications technology stacks, like WebRTC.

Disruptive Contextual Communications Apps Across Industries

Every enterprise keeps a wary eye out for the potential disruptive "Uberization" of their business by someone new with a global app, lots of cloud data, and a dream. While ridesharing relies on SMS and anonymous phone connections, for many other industries WebRTC live video has been the key disruptive factor when embedded into the contextual information of new workflows. Let's look at just three examples.

Within healthcare, telehealth is now a rapidly growing $26 billion market (Statista) where live video is essential to all kinds of use cases, including remote doctor/patient appointments, online therapy, group therapies, healthy lifestyle counseling, clinical reviews, and even remote experts in operating room theaters. InTouch Health, Teladoc, and BetterHelp are just a few examples of the kind of telehealth services that are becoming commonplace, with remote doctor visits now a standard recommended lower-cost line-item on many health insurance plans. Tokbox's own Live Video Maturity Study shows that 60% of people either have or are likely to use live video to chat with a doctor about a non-emergency condition. A look in the popular mobile app stores shows over five hundred telehealth apps incorporating WebRTC, making the technology a fundamental enabler for this market.

Within education, both academic and especially commercial training and certification, there are again many hundreds of WebRTC-based apps delivering online classrooms, tutoring sessions, community learning groups, and more. Once again, we find WebRTC is a fundamental technology building block within the larger $40 billion global eLearning market (Statista). Additionally, Tokbox's maturity study shows that three in five people either have used or are likely to use live video to speak with a tutor remotely, for example using an app like Cambly or PresenceLearning.

Insurance industry players have been for some years aggressively re-engineering customer-facing workflows through mobile and web apps. Today, live video is used within all kinds of claims processing and assessment processes, to the extent that a number of major insurers, like Allstate for example, have completely reallocated much of their field staff.

As Lazar said in his recent No Jitter post, "WebRTC is all around us."

What's Next for WebRTC?

Look to the future of augmented and mixed reality. We have already seen remote "show me" and video customer service apps for some years, as amusingly highlighted in TV ads with John McEnroe and Kathy Bates.

The future will look different. Innovations from the likes of Daqri, Help Lightning, and GoToAssist Seeit are creating rich augmented reality experiences where contextual data and remote experts become a live part of the user experience. Somewhere within the augmented context of these experiences is a WebRTC video stream! I am excited that WebRTC has so much room to grow as a foundation for a new generation of augmented and mixed reality solutions, and enterprises are already looking to take advantage of this next groundswell in communications innovation.

So there you have it -- my take on the growing tsunami wave of WebRTC, now coming to enterprise solutions near you. While we may debate the timing of the technology's moment in the sun, when you combine WebRTC's context-embeddable technology, proven app success across social interactions and industries, and its fundamental role in future technologies like augmented reality, it's safe to say that the WebRTC wave is now unstoppable.

Learn more about APIs & Embedded Communications at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Regular Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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