On a couple of practical issues, WebRTC includes and abstracts key NAT (Network Address Translator) and firewall traversal technology such as STUN (Simple Traversal of User datagram protocol through Network address translators), ICE (Interactive Connectivity Establishment), TURN (Traversal Using Relay NAT), RTP-over-TCP (Real-time Transport Protocol over Transmission Control Protocol) and support for proxies. Enabling sessions to work like Skype. It also abstracts signaling by offering a signaling state machine that maps directly to PeerConnection. WebRTC is built on the PeerConnection API, it represents what browser vendors will implement and expose to web application developers. Web developers can choose the protocol depending on their usage scenario (for example, but not limited to: SIP, XMPP/Jingle, etc…). Essentially any browser becomes a SIP end point, a telephone, an ‘open’ Skype client, an end point for any real-time communication and control.
On the current status of browser implementations:
- Google Chrome: integrated WebRTC into its developer channel in January 2012, allowing any website to take advantage of the WebRTC API. The Google Talk plugin is a complex piece of software and the WebRTC platform is not yet deployed. So Google is taking it one step at a time and not making promises about the migration of when Google Talk plugin will be migrated to the WebRTC framework.
- Mozilla Firefox: Mozilla integrated WebRTC into its Firefox alpha in early 2012 which gave the browser the ability to perform audio mixing on a media stream. In April 2012 Mozilla released a demo of WebRTC video calling that ran inside the Firefox browser
- Internet Explorer: Microsoft has also started work on implementation of the API
- Likely by the end of this year we’ll see Chrome and Firefox running WebRTC, that’s about 50% of the market, and the half of the market (mainly IE) will take a little longer, likely end of 2013.
Of course with any new technology there will be issues such as:
- We’ll still likely have NAT and ﬁrewall issues, though about as often as we face them with Skype today;
- Will it be standardized enough, will some of the proponents find ways to keep their islands and fragment the market;
- Will we need SBCs (Session Border Controllers) to handle the connections?
- STUN and ICE can take time to set-up so call set-up times could be longer than people are used to; and
- People change habits slowly, the communication experience has been fixed for many decades, so things will not change overnight.
That’s the capabilities, but the implications of having an open communications client on most browsers on the planet is much more interesting:
- Voice becomes just like all your other communications: organized into your preferred social or office tools.
- It will be important for the IMS/RCS world to inter-operate with the WebRTC world, currently these browsers will be a closed book to IMS. For RCSe to become pervasive, it cannot remain trapped in phones that have implemented the IMS/RCSe client.
- For all the OTT (Over The Top) applications, they can now use their “directory service” i.e. your list of contacts also using their service to enable Viber / Skype / Whatsapp everywhere. On your PC, smartphone, tablet, TV; and they can offer chargeable services without Apple taking 30%.
- As long as you’re data connected, communications is in the cloud, people need only break out to PSTN when the other person is not data connected, or the call quality is too low due to their internet connection. PSTN becomes the communications path of last resort.
- The company’s website now becomes its call center front end. A weblog becomes your personal communications assistant.
- Communication service aggregators save customers running multiple clients on their phone, that would run in the cloud and be controlled from the browser.
- Click to call doesn’t require an operator’s voice network, just access to the internet.
- Communications becomes like using any application on a smartphone, users can add features, capabilities, people throughout a call, e.g. N-way calling finally becomes simple and obvious with a simple point and swipe.
- Directory services become critical sources of value in connecting all the different IDs: telephone numbers, SIP IDs (IDentifier), web session IDs, other OTT IDs, etc.
- VAS (Value Added Services) leaves telco. Any web developer can create value and solve problems for customers, it the customer who will decide, and those developers who fail fastest win the innovation race.
- Advertising finally enters the communications space, opening up business model innovation.
- New CRM (Customer Relationship Management) methods: click from email, from webpage, from app, from TV. The ability to communicate becomes embedded in most transactions.
- QoS (Quality of Service) remains an issue, but for the people using Vonage and Skype over the years will attest, QoS is rarely an issue.
- Your phone number is no longer relevant anymore. It’s a gateway to the past. Customers will only know the PSTN is involved because of the poor audio quality.
- Gaming becomes interesting as all the devices become controllers using gesture controls as well as the more traditional methods for network-based games.
- And the list goes on…..
And a thank you to Serge Lachapelle (Google’s WebRTC product manager) for reviewing this article.