Unified communications through a browser: The hope and the hype

WebRTC is one of those standards that could change everything about the way we use technology — if it’s ever ready for prime time


WebRTC data sharing

Imagine websites with built-in videoconferencing capabilities. That’s what Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is all about. This emerging standard enables real-time browser-based communications—without the need for external plug-ins.

As Dean Bubley, an analyst at Disruptive Analysis, explains it, such plug-ins “are often difficult and complex for developers to work with.” They also have trouble processing audio and traversing firewalls.

“Plus they have assorted problems with notification for inbound calls,” Bubley says. “WebRTC should be easier and more flexible.”

But is WebRTC ready for use? An article in The Register raises the question by pointing out that this new technology is based on work undertaken by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). The article quotes the W3C’s WebRTC working group saying that the API underpinning the technology is not complete and “not intended for implementation.”

Nonetheless, browser builders are enabling WebRTC in their software. The latest iteration of Firefox (v.18) supports WebRTC, as do Chrome and Opera.

Bubley points out that technology providers regularly implement standards before they’re settled, so the browser makers aren’t necessarily rushing things. “Given that there are relatively well agreed drafts, there’s no reason not to have early versions working now and update them after the standard is fully ratified, which will probably happen next year.”

What does WebRTC mean for businesses? It offers a new way of connecting with customers and partners. Suddenly the website could become the primary communication hub for all manner of media.

Speaking with ZDNet, Geoff Johnson from Gartner said organizations with contact centres and communications-enabled business processes could use WebRTC to build real-time communications into workflows. Organizations “should…prepare for WebRTC to be used in browser-based unified communications and collaboration, contact centre and videoconferencing,” he said.

If websites become the main communication conduit for organizations, businesses may need to reconsider their communications-technology investments. Funding priorities could shift from traditional voice and video equipment to web development.

Organizations should also watch as communications gear makers strive to capitalize on WebRTC’s emergence. One example: Thrupoint. The unified communications technology provider argues that “WebRTC may be difficult for enterprises to implement, as existing corporate telephony and video infrastructures do not use or conform to many of the advanced standards being presented by current browser implementations of WebRTC.” So Thrupoint has developed a WebRTC-to-SIP system that takes care of the signalling and transcoding required to connect existing UC networks to WebRTC-powered browser-based applications.

Since WebRTC is a work in progress, it’s difficult to predict exactly how it will change business communication. But clearly the technology could have a profound impact on website development and network equipment priorities among organizations.

While you’re waiting to see how WebRTC plays out, jump-start your unified communications strategy today by watching our on-demand Webinar, The Perfect IT Storm: Collaboration, Virtualization and Mobility.

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