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WebRTC for Beginners

Posted by Andrew Prokop on Apr 9, 2019 10:00:00 AM

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I have been working in the field of communications for a long time and have witnessed many significant changes over the years. Some ideas, like IP telephony, have revolutionized the industry. Others fell flat on their faces. WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is one of those ideas that falls into the revolutionary camp. While still in its infancy, I predict that within a very short period of time, WebRTC applications will become a daily part of how we communicate.

What exactly is WebRTC?

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications) is a technology that allows web browsers to send and receive real-time media. For instance, WebRTC allows you to go to a web page and use that web page to make an audio or video call. The media is sent directly and securely from your device to the recipient’s device.

If you’ve been involved in telecommunications for a while, you might be saying, “I thought we could already do that.” The answer is yes—but to make those calls, the web page requires that you download an application or use a browser plug-in like Flash.

There are several problems with those approaches. Downloading applications can create security problems. Also, the application might work on Windows, but not on Macintosh, IOS, or Android. The same goes for plug-ins. Flash works great on my Windows PC and my iMac, but it’s not supported on my iPhone or iPad. With WebRTC, the technology is native to the browser itself. There is nothing to download or install.

Show me the Money

WebRTC-capable browsers are the first step, but actual WebRTC applications are essential if this thing is really going to take-off. So, what is the status of those?

For the longest time, most companies seemed to be stuck in the kicking-the-tires phase – albeit kicking them pretty hard. That started to change in late 2017 and early 2018, though, and there are now a number of well-known WebRTC applications. For instance, WebRTC can be found in:

  • Google Hangouts
  • Facebook Messenger and Facebook Live
  • Discord (a social platform for gamers)
  • Amazon Chime
  • GoToMeeting
  • Houseparty

Where will WebRTC see its biggest impact?

Finance, customer care centers, healthcare, and education will likely be in the forefront of the most significant applications. Imagine click-to-call or click-to-video buttons on every company’s webpage. Personally, I would rather point and click than pick up a telephone handset to dial an 800 number.

What are the challenges?

Despite the fact that WebRTC is natively available in a user’s web browser, it doesn’t mean that the conditions to create a WebRTC call are ideal. PCs vary greatly in performance. Network connections can often be far from ideal. A user’s speakers, microphone, and camera can be set up incorrectly, resulting in a subpar real-time communications experience.

There are also challenges back at a company’s customer support center. Will the agents be properly trained to handle yet another customer touch point? How will the agents be able to associate a WebRTC call with a customer’s previous interactions? How will success be measured and reported both in real-time and historically?

While these are fixable issues, they are not solved without planning and effort. New technology can get an undeserved bad rap if it’s not implemented carefully.

Mischief Managed

Ultimately, I expect that WebRTC will be a big winner all around as standards are solidified. Consumers will welcome real-time communications that do not require downloads or plug-ins. Companies will love the consistent interfaces that address a huge market of disparate technologies (PCs, tablets, smart phones, browsers, etc.). Developers will create a vast array of new and exciting communications applications.

WebRTC is a disruptive, revolutionary technology that stands toe-to-toe with the biggest changes we've seen in the communications space. I am sure of that.

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What Exactly is WebRTC?

Topics: Unified Communications


Andrew Prokop
Andrew Prokop  -- Andrew Prokop has been heavily involved in the world of communications since the early 1980s. He holds five United States patents and was on the teams that developed Nortel's carrier-grade SIP soft switch and SIP-based contact center. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. He is just as comfortable writing at the 50,000 foot level as he is discussing the subtle nuances of a particular SIP header. Andrew can be found on Twitter at @ajprokop.