WebRTC: Near-term Battlefield, Long-term Impact on IT

Brian Riggs
Brian Riggs

Summary Bullets:                

  • WebRTC is a promising technology with an uncertain future, particularly in the enterprise
  • WebRTC could impact how corporate IT departments deploy comms software, but not for some time yet

WebRTC is a new technology that has the potential to impact how corporate IT departments purchase and deploy communications software. But sparring among industry heavyweights could deal WebRTC a knockout punch before it ever finds its way into the enterprise.

WebRTC, in a nutshell, lets users make voice and video calls natively from a browser. Users don’t need to download and install a plugin that introduces instant messaging and video chat capabilities to standard browsers, nor do they need dedicated client software like Skype or FaceTime. Instead, simple Javascript APIs embed real-time communications capabilities directly into the browsers themselves, allowing voice, video and IM sessions to be established directly from browser to browser.

Google, unsurprisingly, is one of the big movers and shakers behind WebRTC. Browser-based voice and video communications fits neatly into a corporate strategy that has already driven instant messaging (Google Talk), mobility (Google Voice), and office productivity applications (Google Docs) into the browser. Other companies whose business centers around browser development – Mozilla and Opera, specifically – have also been enthusiastic supporters of RTC. Microsoft, which, unlike Google, has market-leading but client-based communication software (Skype) has voiced tacit support for WebRTC so long as some tweaks are made to the underlying technology and codecs supported. And Apple, whose client-based FaceTime is wildly popular, has maintained a stony silence when it comes to WebRTC support.

If WebRTC can garner greater support among the leading browser developers, and if concessions made to garner the support of Microsoft and others does not irreparably fracture WebRTC – and if browsers with native real-time communications features ride BYOD’s coattails into the enterprise, then corporate IT department will begin to see WebRTC impacting them. This will first take the form of trying to regulate the use of browser-based communications, much like the use of other non-secure consumer-centric communications services like Skype and FaceTime need to be regulated.  It could later lead to integrating browsers with WebRTC with the SIP-based communications solutions deployed on premise, so that voice and video sessions can be established between the two.  And eventually it could change the way communications software is deployed in the enterprise, with client-based soft phones and UC software being replaced by browser-based technology. But this won’t happen for quite some time, perhaps never. It all depends on how many of those “ifs” WebRTC and its backers can overcome.


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