Developments in WebRTC: Real-Time Communication and the Transformation of Communication

Web Real-Time Communication as an API definition and framework has made a huge impact in the communications arena by empowering users to instantly share multi-media across a wide array of devices. Today, individuals and organizations around the world rely on platforms such as Skype or Google Hangouts to chat online without a second thought. Adoption in the consumer space is very high. Behind the scenes, this technology is in the process of maturing for business. The standards surrounding WebRTC are still evolving, the enterprise is wrapping its head around backend architecture, and developers are coming up with novel use cases for the technology.


WebRTC is for everyone. Resistance is futile.


Where businesses might once have implemented a six figure videoconferencing solution just to enable CEOs to connect with one another, WebRTC is democratizing visual collaboration and delivering it throughout organizations of all sizes. These new solutions are cost-effective, simple to set up, and readily scalable for the enterprise. By making the browser itself the delivery system and dispensing with plugins, WebRTC has done away with the hardware and software installation question entirely.

Fabian Bernhard, CEO of Veeting, sees easy implementation as a prime motivation for swift adoption. “From the perspective of IT software management, it is much easier to maintain. There is no application to install on hundreds or thousands of devices. The only thing to maintain is the web browser, and they are doing that anyway.” Enterprises are quickly grasping that WebRTC can be used to enhance both internal and external communication. Businesses ranging from call centers to legal firms are white labeling WebRTC platforms like Veeting to create branded portals that put their own look and feel on the user experience.

How is this rapidly changing area of technology affecting existing communications systems? Lorenzo Miniero, Cofounder of Meetecho, warns that the impact of the technology should not be underestimated. “It allows you to do everything you want with real-time media in a browser or a mobile app. There’s nothing you can’t do with it, which is exciting. It’s a huge milestone in communications in general and everybody has to adapt not to be cut out.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Lorenzo revealed that it is the telecommunications industry that seems slowest to adopt the WebRTC standard. TELCO on the whole is reluctant to acknowledge the importance of the technology, probably because it threatens their vested interest in existing Unified Communications Platforms. This dismissive stance is sure to change in the long run. “They will succumb. There is no getting around it.”


Opportunities and challenges in the WebRTC arena


It may seem strange, but putting a “call now” button on a website or making a video phone call on a mobile device has only recently become simple to accomplish. And it’s all thanks to WebRTC. Fabian acknowledged that, “In the beginning it required SIP knowledge and technical skill to interact with the telecomm backend. That’s a very complex field of development requiring a different mindset and skillset.” But today’s web developers now have access to the framework they need along with tools like the Janus WebRTC server to easily integrate audio and video with mobile technology.

In terms of developing around mobile, Lorenzo noted that the framework technology is basically device agnostic. The heavy lifting surrounding development has already been done by the WebRTC community. “The web and mobile developers can simply focus on the user experience on the specific device. For instance, they can decide where to place the videos.” Of course, mobile still poses other challenges for any type of real time streaming. “Mobile end points are sensitive to delays. You are using less powerful devices so you have to consider the bit rate, bandwidth, and resolution. There are limitations in the device. But as long as developers use a browser such as Chrome that supports WebRTC, they can make use of Janus.”

On the enterprise level, organizations are facing other obstacles. They consult with firms like Meetecho to try to mesh their communications systems together. Here, most developers simply don’t have the experience to bridge the gap. According to Miniero, “Our clients have teams with strong experience with web and mobile dev, but they don’t have strong experience on backend. Or, they may have a background in TELCO but not with the web. It’s hard to find people skilled enough to make it all work seamlessly. Our clients want help designing the architecture of the backend, deploying WebRTC across the organization, and interfacing backends.”


What’s in the development pipeline for WebRTC?


The standard itself is still being developed and it will be interesting to see what happens in the battle of the codec standards. Lorenzo revealed that this struggle within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) community is more political than technical in nature. “The technical issues are sorted out pretty easily. But Google is pushing for open source VP8 when the more restrictively licensed H.264 is already in widespread commercial use.” As of now, both codecs are moving forward in tandem and have become mandatory to implement. But this truce is an uneasy one. “The next battle will be over the next generation of VP9 vs. H.265.”

In terms of use cases, the field is wide open for innovation. Early stage Peer to Peer WebRTC is already available, allowing users to communicate directly with one another using only the resources on their own devices and cutting the server out of the loop. This has interesting implications for secure communications. Bernhard revealed why this privacy is appealing, “We call it ‘zero knowledge’ in terms of what the server can know about what transpires in a virtual meeting. The only information that the server has access to is the IP address of each participant and the duration of the encounter. The conversation itself is private between the devices with no way for the server to listen in on what is shared.”

At the other extreme of information sharing is the question of scaling for as many participants as possible. Meetecho is working with an eye toward massive one-to-many simulcasting via WebRTC. In the near future, TV talk shows with millions of viewers might stream via WebRTC and incorporate interaction with a few lucky audience members selected to call in with video from their laptop or mobile phone to participate live. A little farther down the line, real time virtual reality could be added to the types of multi-media consumed via WebRTC.

Web Real-Time Communication is also meeting the IoT trend in some novel and amusing ways. Lorenzo revealed, “One user created an app to control a Parrot Jumping Sumo drone. They adapted the Janus backend by adding calls to the ARDrone SDK to communicate and drive the drone over the web. It can capture video and send it back to the user via WebRTC. It’s not a scenario we conceived. It’s really crazy.” Miniero offered one final takeaway for developers interested in toying with the Janus Gateway. “Give it a try. Play around with it and tell us your unique use cases.”

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