WebRTC Is Here to Stay But Will Not Take Over The World

Presentation1There is a lot of hype around WebRTC currently. I also hear how WebRTC will be the end of all other endpoints-something you can imagine I might have an opinion on. I personally think WebRTC is fantastic for users and certainly will have an impact on the Telecommunications sector. However, I do not think it will crush everything else in its wake. I am reminded of when SIP first surfaced. It was promised that SIP was going to take over the world and become the only IP signaling protocol used for multimedia and even make POTS lines a thing of the past. Years later SIP has made significant progress but there are still other protocols in use and the traditional telephone network is still the most used for most voice communications. Considering how new WebRTC is I am impressed with the momentum created – thanks to the marketing and financial muscle of Google and others. Of course it will take some time to sort out the issues of standardization and interoperability but it will come same day as it did for SIP. Thinking back to SIP, it took years to go through the standardization and initial interop process. I am certain WebRTC will move quicker but it will take time. However, having said that I do think the major challenges are around the E2E ecosystem supporting WebRTC fully. Today Google’s Chrome and Firefox’s Aurora. Opera does not fully support and it’s unclear if Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s IE will support WebRTC. At the Enterprise Connect breakout WebRTC event Microsoft certainly made it clear they are not current supporting as reported by Fierce in their Will WebRTC be delayed by Microsoft? article. Although many will say this will be solved over time it’s difficult to really get a good sense of the timing of a resolution. Politics are in full swing and without ubiquitous browser support it will be a challenge.

Of particular internet for me will be what happens around mobile. There have already been demos of mobile web-based calls. However it will be interesting to see how WebRTC will manifest itself across the various mobile OSs, devices, and web browsers. I should mention that Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis has his views on WebRTC and has developed a comprehensive report covering WebRTC that you can find here.

I noticed that Dialogic had a wedinar covering WebRTC. During the Webinar a question was asked: “Which of the following WebRTC use cases will be most important over the next 2 years?” Here are the results:

Which of the following WebRTC use cases will be most important over the next 2 years?

Source: Dialogic

Granted the above is not a scientific survey, I tend to agree with the majority of use cases. However, I do not buy into the use of WebRTC for Standalone VoIP / Video Calling outside the context of an app – well, outside of demos (web or otherwise). In my opinion, initially the majority of the use cases will be around the infusion of voice, video into an existing game, service or other similar applications or services. As an example my daughter uses FaceTime with her friends as she plays Minecraft. It’s an awkward experience as she needs to prop up the iPod while playing the game. A better experience would be to leverage WebRTC to add voice within Minecraft.

From a market pov, I do believe we are in a shift away from “phone booth” voice services to voice as an application – in particular embedded within other applications or services. I see the same happening with messaging and video service over time. I will not go as far to say that voice, video and messaging services are dead but they are certainly under pressure (for more on “Voice as an app” check out this post by C. Enrique Ortiz). However this will take time and as TeleGeography points out overall traffic is growing (for voice) but being driving by Internet OTT services:

Source: TeleGeography

Digressing a bit, the issue in front of Operators is that they have increased competition from global led, local delivered Internet OTT players. This is crushing Operator revenues across core services. WebRTC does not really help this and in my opinion adds to the revenue risk as WebRTC opens up a general Operator services subscription platform that will traverse Broadband service offerings (i.e., accelerate Operators turning into bit pipes). Some Operators such as AT&T obviously disagree as you can see from this Razorsight post. I am not saying it’s bad that AT&T leverages the web browser to make money — that is great. However, WebRTC is open for everyone including AT&T’s competitors. The Razorsight post is a good read and covers the pros / cons of Operators supporting WebRTC. The net-net point of the post is it’s really a “if you can’t beat them, then join them strategy”. I still believe Operators can beat the Internet OTT players at their own game if they mashup their legacy network with the same technologies Internet OTT providers use.

Back to WebRTC. Here is my take on my WebRTC is here to stay:

  • Meets Google’s modus operandi to implement technologies that better help it understand it’s users to sell advertising.
  • WebRTC is perfect for applications that need to incorporate voice into web-based applications (e.g., games, B2C websites)
  • It’s free

Here is my take on the challenges as they relate to force fitting WebRTC into communications today:

  • Interoperability with the traditional phone network. WebRTC is it’s own island that leverages the web to interconnect people. There is no inherent thought for PSTN termination of WebRTC based traffic (AFAIK). However this is not a showstopper and there are GWs that can be used to interconnect but it does provide for a road bump. Interconnecting to the world’s largest voice terming network is important in my point of view.
  • Codec support is limited specifically not supporting G.729 (used for narrow band situations) and only having VP8 for video (not as popular  as H.264). G.729 and H.264 are both codecs that are frequently used in deployments and will be missed from WebRTC. WebRTC is betting the farm on VP8 for video which leaves little choice for video applications.
  • The lack of Microsoft and Safari will be an issue for ubiquitous usage of WebRTC. As pointed out above Microsoft has dug in with regard to  their position and Apple is at best ignoring WebRTC at this point. For any Web based service it simply is not good enough to say “not compatible with your browser”.
  • Lack of defined signaling. Many don’t see this as an issue. I see it has a significant blocker to ubiquitous servers and overall usage. And on one hand it is not-You can use any signaling protocol with WebRTC. However, the issue comes when you try to communicate with disparate services that use a different signaling protocol. This leads to fragmentation which defeats the purpose of WebRTC.

The net-net for me is WebRTC has a place in communications and is here to stay. However it is not going to resurface the landscape of telecom as the hype machine wants us to believe. No technology, service or offering enjoys 100% of the market – WebRTC is no different.



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