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Fueled by WebRTC: 4K, Rooms, Interoperability

WebRTC-logo.jpg

Picture of the WebRTC logo
Image: WebRTC project authors - webrtc.org/press/
Even as WebRTC 1.0, which will enable real-time communications between browsers, moves closer to finalization, interest in — or at least hype around — WebRTC seems to have faded to make way for hotter topics like AI and bots.
Considering the traditional hype cycle, you might think we’ve slipped into the trough of disillusionment with WebRTC. The truth, though, is very different.
 
WebRTC has become so prevalent in our lives that we don’t even think about it — we just use it. It has become a background to the communication tools and services that we all use daily.
 
I’d like to give three examples of how trends that are seemingly far remote from what WebRTC is and how it operates can be found at the core of the features that communications and collaboration vendors are rolling out these days. I’ll focus here on the videoconferencing market, though the same applies to voice and even the live broadcast markets.
 
4K
When we think about ways to increase media quality, a lot of what we can do boils down to the resolution you’re using. We’ve moved from VGA and lower resolutions toward HD resolutions and now 4K.
 
But we must think beyond increasing resolution, or using newer video coding technology, to raise the bar. The flexibility that comes with scripting languages or running video inside a browser — a la WebRTC — trumps performance. So how exactly does 4K relate to WebRTC? It ties in because of the way videoconferencing providers are rethinking their infrastructure and services.
 
Today, many videoconferencing providers are migrating toward WebRTC-centric environments, as opposed to limiting WebRTC to residing only at the edges of their networks. As they move toward these more WebRTC-centric environments, they end up finding ways to adopt 4K and other needed technologies in WebRTC itself.
 
At a recent event, Lifesize explained how it has taken this exact route for its newest hardware systems:
 

Rooms
In the world of videoconferencing, we’ve seen a steady shift in focus from expensive telepresence board meeting types of rooms toward smaller huddle rooms. As we’re making video more user friendly, we need it to be pervasive — installed everywhere throughout an enterprise. Instead of just hosting meetings in these rooms, this is where we’re getting work done, especially for teams that have remote and widespread participants.
 
The move to make video pervasive throughout the enterprise means the price point for room systems needs to come down and the solutions needs to be simpler. This boils down to standardizing on generic solutions — PCs, tablets, TV screens, and webcams. That standardization and a shift toward the generic necessitates supporting something that is available everywhere, and that’s WebRTC.
 
WebRTC fits nicely into web browsers, PC applications, and mobile/embedded operating systems. This makes it a great solution for such rooms.
 
Interoperability
The need to interoperate is a thing in videoconferencing and in communications. The notion of being able to purchase equipment from different vendors and have them connect and work together is magical — even today.
 
With videoconferencing, interoperability had always been a challenge. And while it’s gotten easier over the years, one issue had remained: Communicating using your company’s videoconferencing equipment with the equipment another organization uses is difficult. Simply put, connecting CorpGreat’s conference room with AwsomeCorp’s conference room for a video session on a potential partnership can be more challenging than the partnership itself.
 
In recent months we’ve seen videoconferencing vendors beginning to address this challenge. Our room systems today are based on generic software. Many of them use WebRTC internally, especially if their whole interface is driven by HTML5 (something that ends up making UI development easier, across platforms).
 
The recent announcements from Cisco and Microsoft that their respective Webex Room and Teams Rooms can now join each other’s meetings caught my eye. They do this with the help of WebRTC (something that enables everyone today to offer easy guest access to meetings).
 
Will we see vendors taking the next step and offering an open room system platform that can connect to any meeting by way of WebRTC links?
 
What’s Next for WebRTC?
There’s a lot we can achieve with WebRTC today, with many different use cases that crop up in the various verticals. In many ways, WebRTC has moved into the background, leaving us with a service that just works. What we do with it is up to us.

Join the author at Enterprise Connect, where he’ll be presenting the session, How Enterprises Are Using WebRTC Today, on Wednesday, April 1, at 4:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Not registered yet? Check out the conference program here, the exhibit hall here, and register using the code NOJITTER to save $200 off the current rate.