Understanding WebRTC

Nurdianah Md Nur

Web Real Time Communications (WebRTC) is a free, open source project that allows real-time communication — voice calling, video chat and peer-to-peer file sharing — to be embedded into web browsers.  Launched in May 2011 by Google, the WebRTC initiative is supported by Chrome, Mozilla and Opera browsers.

We talked to Nick Hawkins, senior director of Advanced Technology at Polycom, to learn more about the benefits of WebRTC and the barriers to its adoption.

Why is WebRTC a disruptive force for the current UC landscape?
WebRTC is a unique game changer that will allow anyone with a web browser to connect to a video conference session.

There are several factors that make the technology very important for the industry. For one, the free, open source nature of the project along with the ease of development lowers the entry barrier for millions of web developers to easily create applications providing voice calling, video chatting and file sharing capabilities. Since these apps will be supported by browsers that will be used by more than two billion global users across many different devices, the adoption of real-time communications is poised to increase.

This ease of development will also allow application developers to focus on the business logic of their application and easily integrate real time communications into the workflow. This should drive higher adoption of collaboration in general and be a key enabler of communication enabled business processes. An example of such business workflow integration could be the use of WebRTC to provide video based outreach from a business to key clients for improved customer support, which will significantly improve the quality of interaction and build the trust level.

What is the take up rate of WebRTC in Asia?
The take up rate varies as it depends on the browsers that users are using. For example, most users in China are using Internet Explorer [which does not support WebRTC] while users in Indonesia and Thailand are mostly using Mozilla or Chrome, which are already supporting WebRTC.

Moreover, there are few key criteria for WebRTC adoption that stakeholders need to consider. These include good broadband, permissive attitudes, telco-driven initiatives, and most importantly, drive for innovation and enthusiasm among developers. 

What are the challenges of adopting WebRTC? How can organisations overcome these challenges?
WebRTC is based on a different architecture from existing traditional video technology. Instead of having a conferencing bridge at the centre of the network to manage all the connections, WebRTC is more peer-to-peer, a mesh-based technology. Each user sends and receives streams from every other user in the call. This creates challenges when scaling up due to complexities of connection and bandwidth inefficiencies.

WebRTC is also unlikely to thrive and gain mass adoption if it exists only as an island. It is virtually important that WebRTC users are able to connect and collaborate with other video environments such as traditional videoconference rooms, and/or Unified Communications (UC) solutions such as Microsoft Lync.

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