WebRTC and Its Impact on the Unified Communications Landscape

By David Duffett

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable type in 1455. Nearly 195 years later people held the first daily newspaper in Leipzig, Germany. Fast-forward another 226 years when Alexander Graham Bell patented the electric telephone. It’s amazing to think how much technology has advanced and how many different options we now have to communicate, from instant messaging to video. Equally intriguing is the realization of much shorter innovation cycles and how that impacts the business landscape. As the amount of time between advancements continues to narrow, particularly with communications, businesses are also able to shorten their adoption cycles of new technologies in an effort to better service customers and be more competitive. Web real-time communications, or WebRTC, is a good example of a technology that continues to advance, providing businesses with additional tools that not only exceed customer expectations, but that could completely redefine the user experience.

In a business context, the beginning of the online communications movement occurred as companies began using the web to transport messages, written and verbal. Second came the move of business phone systems and other infrastructure into the cloud. While there are a number of reasons why some people and businesses will always prefer an on-premises solution, anything you need “as-a-service” run from the cloud is becoming the norm. These previous moves have facilitated what might be viewed as the third phase of the business communications movement, which is the ability to integrate business applications within the web. This progression has been enabled through technologies such as WebRTC.

In the past, it was possible to integrate a phone system with a customer database to provide rudimentary tools like screen-pops so that agents could tell who was calling. Now that communications is truly in the web, the age of “in-context communications” is here. WebRTC enables browser-to-browser communication without plugins or installations, allowing the end user to have real-time voice and video calls right in the browser. Simply put, WebRTC empowers business by removing the technical barriers of entry into the real-time communications world, leveling the playing field for everyone. Within the tech world, the short-term impact of WebRTC is being overestimated while its long-term impact is being underestimated. It will take a while to smooth out this platform, but once it’s there, its capabilities will quickly change the way business is done:

  • Websites could add live support with screen sharing. If your TV isn’t working, an IT professional can screen share with you and visually walk you through the rebooting process.
  • Journalists could stream breaking news directly from their phones to news outlets
  • Your boss could video conference you while sending you a data file directly to your mobile phone
  • Chat directly with your insurance agent through your browser- showing them your car’s damaged bumper directly through your webcam.

While WebRTC represents one of the most potentially transformative areas of Unified Communications (UC), it is still in its infancy. Threatened by the capabilities inherent in WebRTC some companies may hesitate to integrate the technology immediately, due to protection of their own projects (such as Apple’s Safari and FaceTime and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Skype). Eventually, even reticent companies will sign on and embrace what WebRTC can do, because their users will want to take advantage of the gains this platform offers the marketplace. Just as people love the instant communication they are able to have with their friends and families, they look for the same ability from the companies they pay their bills to and rely on for their consumer needs.

Most encouraging is the understanding that a time shift in innovation and adoption has taken place, speeding up what once took decades and even centuries to complete. A technology that’s in its ‘infancy’ today, or organizations that are considered technology laggards, or even technological evolutions that may feel like slow moving glaciers, are actually all maturing, adapting and being integrated at an extraordinarily fast rate. Even with WebRTC in its early stages, it will blossom into platforms that will fundamentally change the landscape of UC as we know it today – and it will occur faster than you may realize!

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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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