Let me kick off with an obvious statement but it needs repeating: WebRTC is about communications not just telephony. Which has an important corollary: telephony is not dead, its just becoming a bit-part in the emerging web-centric communications landscape.
The first ever WebRTC Global Summit ran from March 31st – April 2nd in London. Congratulations to Georgina Wilczek for putting together a great first event. The focus was the application of WebRTC to Telcos, though the fun was in contrasting the differences between how web-centric and telco-centric people discuss WebRTC. At the end of this weblog are some slides that summarize a few of the presentations to give a flavor of the insights and discussions during the event.
Overall the industry is moving on from the hype of “WebRTC changes everything” to a much more practical focus on making WebRTC work reliably in practice. Which at the moment it does not because of technology and ecosystem immaturity. With Appear.in (webRTC video conferencing) being shown in BBC Click, webRTC services are entering mainstream awareness. Also Dialogic released an update their WebRTC survey reviewing perceptions on the status and application of WebRTC.
The pre conference workshop was run by Tsahi Levent-Levi of BlogGeek.Me, his slides are shown below. The main event kicked off with a series of telco case studies (Bouygues and Telecom Italia) and vendor thought leadership from Oracle sharing a sweet demo on web socket rehydration for transferring and re-establishing WebRTC sessions. For those regular WebRTC users: crashes, accidental window closing, back button presses, and other other funky behavior in and between browsers using WebRTC are all too common. Trent from Hookflash presented on ORTC (Object Real Time Communications), which is in competition with the W3C WebRTC API work in making WebRTC easier to use by a broader segment of developers. Likely we’ll either see the two approaches merge, or the market will decide.
A common theme in WebRTC 1.0 is its too complex for the average developer. This in itself is not a significant problem as a range of innovative companies abstract away the WebRTC complexity to deliver easy to consume services such as Tropo with Phono, Apidaze with Widget4call, etc. But in the limit the most powerful applications arise when the platform is ubiquitous and easy to use for millions of developers, not just a hardy few that understand the session description protocol. For Telcos though, given their lack of agility, they have to start investigating and planning now, as next year WebRTC 2.0 work will start and through 2015 we’ll see improvements and innovations moving WebRTC to a level of maturity that can be ‘good enough’ for most use cases. The only thing that is certain is WebRTC is developing fast and the flip from geek to main-stream will happen over a few months not years.
In the afternoon of Day One we had 6 WebRTC demos pitch and the top 3 were:
1st Viblast – Using the WebRTC data channel to improve content delivery networks through P2P sharing of the video. I think many content owners will use this for streaming of live events, and it will accelerate the delivery of mainstream TV over the Internet.
3rd Quobis – showed how they can abstract using Sippo the implementation complexity of WebRTC across devices and platform.
I also want to give a special mention to Pipe, using the WebRTC data channel to create an excellent experience for private file sharing. I’m seeing lots of general developers play with data channel in preference to the audio and video stuff as communications is hard.
We had a number of fun panels, were the potential impact of WebRTC was raised, for example that it could redefine VoLTE with WebRTC. And some interesting discussions on telco standardization work on WebRTC within IMS and whether it is even necessary. Regulation, legal intercept, and other operational issues were brought up that in general showed some telco applications of WebRTC are doomed to failure through ensuring a crap user experience as the focus is NOT on the customer.
WebRTC is much more than telephony, it makes no sense at present to use webRTC to replicate telephony. In fact, I give Chang Feng from ooVoo kudos for being the first panelist to mention the C-word, Customer. This is a critical point, WebRTC is just a technology platform. The focus of Telcos must be on the new customer service experiences created, not just focusing on the network. Else the web guys will simply run rings around telcos in voice as they have in messaging.
We did have some disagreements, particularly around signaling, though it was all very gentle, there were no tantrums. With WebRTC the signaling engine is downloaded from the webpage, so no compliance testing is required. That’s very powerful. And there are a range of real-time platforms to support signaling such as Google’s Channel API, Amazon SNS, Pubnub, Firebase, and RTWorld. The web is moving rapidly to fill in the gaps and make it easy for developers.
Keynotes from Serge LaChappelle of Google, and Dom from W3C provided great reviews and signposts on the future of WebRTC. We then focused on a number of much more practical discussions on the application of WebRTC and developers real-world experiences. In the BABS (Bay Area BS) World, we’re to believe IE and Safari’s lack of support is a non-issue, as all that matters is the mobile internet (queue contrived analysis that simply looks at number of smartphones being > PCs). Hence as WebRTC will be embedded in mobile phones (which it is generally not), the IE/Safari issue is mute.
For those developers trying to get WebRTC to work that is not their reality. And in my experience across PCs and Mobiles, I use Chrome on Mac as the only way WebRTC services work adequately. I’ve been struggling with Firefox running WebRTC recently. And do not forget Chrome updates have no pre-release for developers, so as soon as the update is released WebRTC applications need to be updated to ensure they still work. This is an example of the ecosystem immaturity. These issues will be resolves and quickly with respect to the cadence of Telcos. But the question I was asked several times at the event was, “When would I run a business JUST using WebRTC?” The answer today is clearly no. By 2015, I’d put the chances at 40%, and by 2016 at over 75%. So the time for Telco experimentation and planning is now, but do not worry, WebRTC is not going to change everything, just yet.