WebRTC: Building excitement and forging new gateways

By David Duffett

It is difficult to look in any direction in the communications space right now without seeing mention of WebRTC. It really does seem to have become something that everyone feels they must mention, align with, or have a response at the ready.

WebRTC is obviously causing a lot of excitement in the industry and many vendors want to be first to lead the charge. Even so, it’s fair to say the whole story has yet to be written.  There is still time to sort out what it ultimately will mean for the communications industry – and for those vendors within the space.

Similarly, businesses looking to bring WebRTC into their communications fold, may want to take an approach of cautious optimism. The benefits could be significant, but rushing in too soon may bring a few challenges, as well.

In fact, for all the excitement around WebRTC, it is not yet a fully finished standard. Check out the latest information about WebRTC.

That said, there are some definite opportunities where WebRTC is concerned. And, there are some vendor solutions on the horizon to help SMEs capitalize on the advantages of WebRTC, without jeopardizing the investments already sunk into current telecommunications systems – and Asterisk is positioned to be among the first to do so.

One noteworthy opportunity, or rather collection of opportunities is that of a gateway between the futuristic WebRTC and the incumbent communications systems. It could be quite important considering the latter is currently employed everywhere from SOHO to SME businesses, and beyond.

It may well be that, due to all of the publicity and enthusiasm surrounding WebRTC right now, end users of today’s communications technology start demanding WebRTC ‘connectivity’ for their businesses, right away. That demand could come on fast and strong. And, these businesses may realize they are not actually prepared to move away from the investment they have already made in their communications infrastructure – the infrastructure that is hooked up to the outside world by analog lines, ISDN or even SIP!

Consider that the integration of new pages into a company’s website is very easy. New pages can also appear to be part of the same company website, even though they may be hosted on a different server from that of the other web pages. Creating a new web page that is hosted elsewhere is really all that is needed to create a WebRTC-powered contact portal. It’s very simple!

Of course, on the other side of that portal, there needs to be a robust and reliable link into that company’s telephony system. This type of integration allows “callers” who come in through WebRTC to be connected to the employees who have regular phones on their desks.

“Hang on!” I can almost hear you say, “Why not give employees access to WebRTC-powered comms capabilities too?” Then, they can have useful and productive video calls with customers through their browsers.

This is easy to do. In reality, with WebRTC, employees do not need anything more than a web browser on their computers, along with audio/video capabilities. And, this could replace the old fashioned thing on their desks, known as the phone!

I expect this will definitely come along in the future (after all, WebRTC is the mother of all disruptive technologies, so far as the heavy iron PBX camp is concerned). BUT, it is unlikely to come along anytime really soon. Why? The company phone system is not only used to deliver phone calls – it also provides lots of other functions such as IVR, contact centre logic, integration with company information systems, etc.

The dependencies on those types of functions will keep the company phone system in place for the short-term, and perhaps somewhat longer.

Given this view, here is where Digium (and others) see opportunity – in providing gateway technology that allows the seamless integration of customer-friendly WebRTC on the front-end to incumbent phone systems on the back-end.

This means that a solution is needed that not only supports WebRTC, but also supports the native technology of the PBX – and this could by PRI, BRI (there’s a lot of that in Europe), analog lines or IP (SIP, maybe some H.323).

Enter Asterisk! Great support for all of the above technology makes it the solution to use for any and all gateway applications, including (but by no means limited to) WebRTC to virtually any telephony interface or IP telephony connectivity.

On top of this, the power and flexibility that Asterisk has in terms of call routing, digit manipulation, media serving and recording capability mean that there really is no alternative that even comes close as the foundation to build the next generation of gateways, protocol translators or media transcoders.

Several of us at Digium will be talking a lot more about WebRTC during the WebRTC World Conference in June. So, if this is a topic you are following, you might want to join us there…we’ll keep this conversation going. Drop us a comment here, as well, and let us know what you think.

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About the Author

David Duffett

David works with the Worldwide Asterisk Community for Digium, and is an Asterisk enthusiast in addition to being a Chartered Engineer, globally experienced trainer and public speaker.His experience includes Air Traffic Control communications, Wireless Local Loop, Mobile Networks, Computer Telephony, Voice over IP and Asterisk specifically.In addition to many web articles, David's publications include Asterisk 1.4: The Professional's Guide (Packt, co-author) and the contribution of a chapter (on Internationalisation) to Asterisk: The Definitive Guide (O'Reilly).David is editorially responsible for AstriCon (THE annual global Asterisk event) where he also introduced the 'Fastest Dude to the Dialtone' contest some years ago. He is a frequent speaker at AsterConference Asia (David has also MC'd at this event), IT Expo (East and West) and a number of corporate events. He has also spoken at numerous other conferences - VoIP Developer, Speech World, CT Expo and UC Expo to name a few.

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