There seems to be a bit of confusion over what WebRTC means and how it will change the way we communicate – well, for me at least. Luckily, I’ve since cleared up that uncertainty, though I will openly admit the whole concept was relatively foreign to me at first. The fact of the matter is, WebRTC is VoIP, standing for real-time communications, leveraging the ability to send voice (and video) over an IP network (using the same standards/codecs like H.323, SIP, XMPP). That being said – how does it differ? Well, I’m gonna briefly turn things over to Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer to emphasize that difference:
With source code becoming available frequently, WebRTC might be heaven in the cloud – a boundless way of connecting no matter the platform or program. A demonstration I came across, proudly displayed web conferencing between Google Chrome and Firefox, though communicating through a browser wouldn’t exactly make it all the buzz, now would it? Well, in comes HTML5, which is supported by mobile platforms, and is in essence, a mobile cross platform developer tool utilized by a great deal of the individuals Ballmer elaborated upon so eloquently. Expect many new apps to leverage HTML5 APIs as WebRTC comes to fruition, as this opens the gates for any application to support both voice and audio by being paired with the Internet.
What does it mean for providers & consumers? It means the potential of both direct retail companies providing WebRTC powered apps and services, in addition to “enablers” like Voxeo and others. Customers will undoubtedly find a wealth of offerings, and we’ll be experiencing the same OTT vs. Provider conundrum that’s becoming increasingly trying for companies that’ve been around for quite some time, and are losing revenue in the process. Adding RTC to the mix will undoubtedly kick up more dust than the Tazmanian Devil in an open field.
At the end of the day, WebRTC is a versatile media engine for SIP, and it isn’t exactly a replacement for first-party VoIP offerings by any means – not yet at least. This is for a number of reasons, which might be purely speculative, but hear me out:
1) Skype, Google Voice, and other in-browser options are aplenty – people will not see the practicality in RTC off the bat, and developers will not be so excited to be working with flash. Firefox and Chrome are on board of course, though the there is surely to be slow or no rush from other companies.
2) Desktop browsers are under community control, while mobile browsers applications are in the grips of Apple & Google, not to mention service providers like AT&T/Verizon. We’ve been down this road before, and ultimately, neither may want WebRTC to disrupt proprietary solutions or licensing – expect providers to twist their arms…there’s a potential for big revenue here and that means clawing and scratching when things don’t go a certain way for the potential winners with big visions. At the end of the day, Apple and your mobile carrier decide what applications you run – they have administrative rights, but you do not.
There are other factors at play which are going to make the rollout of WebRTC an arduous one for the collective. As of January 26, 2012, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act went into effect, making it illegal to unlock your smartphone without carrier permission. This creates more red tape with regard to WebRTC – another hurdle for developers and visionaries to jump, and yet another reminder that everyone is at the mercy of the corporate strings. No matter how liberating using a mobile device might seem, both you and your device are tethered to the company providing service. Naturally, those with previously unlocked devices will slip through the cracks, and tablets (for now) are not including in this ruling. No matter the case, rest assured that service providers for smartphones will have their interest ‘peaked’ by anything that might be potentially disruptive, as we’ve seen in the past (See AT&Ts rejection of Google Voice).
The disconnect is already getting wider as excitements begin to stir over the coming of WebRTC. I for one, remain skeptic, as there is an apparent conflict of interest that’s only becoming more heightened with each passing day. At the end of the day, your mobile carrier is in on every dollar you spend using a device over their network. Bill Gates, in his wildest dreams never imagined a racket this good – he was merely the richest man alive by selling Windows and Office. Imagine if you created Windows, but had to have Microsoft approve your creation, while consequently getting in on every little piece of the action. In the general scheme of things, this is the hypothetical situtation developers of WebRTC are going to face, as a technological war of attrition for the ages begins to brew.