Web Conferencing and WebRTC: Connection or Music on Hold?

4 Jun 2015

The tools available for enterprise conferencing have significantly grown and now routinely include not only voice and video but also collaboration and co-browsing.

But any multi-party conference is likely to be a heterogeneous mix of access modes, especially when not all users are on the same enterprise network. For example, the last multimedia conference call you joined probably offered a link for an online conferencing application for your computer as well as dial-in access numbers for those users opting for phones. Conferencing is about bringing people together to communicate and by nature must be inclusive of the widest audience possible and present multiple modes of access. Some users inherently trust phone lines to provide reliable and high-quality voice service for long duration calls. Others prefer to access conferences via VoIP services that are integrated into the conferencing application. The point is, you can't predict who will have which preferences, and need to accommodate for both.

Most enterprises today leverage one of many popular third-party systems for conferencing and collaboration; however, not everyone uses the same platform, and the person you are scheduled to speak with may not have your preferred platform installed. That means that your peer needs to go through the process of downloading and installing a plugin or application just to join, which usually causes a delay in starting the meeting. WebRTC, on the other hand, allows two people to speak via the Internet without this hassle - making it more likely that meetings get started on time and without an awkward setup period.

Does WebRTC have the potential to fix this once and for all? And if so, what's the hold up?

While WebRTC is considered a game-changer in UC, there are several major challenges to overcome in the next year for the technology to be used in the enterprise setting:

1. Quality of service. We are exploring WebRTC in the enterprise lens, which means that users expect more quality in their experience than the average consumer. Will WebRTC's advanced codecs like Opus and VP8 enable satisfactory HD audio and video, or will early experiences come with the drop-outs, echoes, and other common user experience issues associated with RTC over the public Internet?

2. Security. A major advantage is that WebRTC supports only encrypted media and encourages developers to use HTTP secure transport for signaling. But, for example, with click-to-talk services, enterprises can consider methods for ensuring that authentication is always a part of their WebRTC and VoIP infrastructure, so they can identify and validate incoming sessions. When an enterprise leverages the Web for a communication channel, the potential of TDoS (Telephone Denial of Services) attacks naturally increases. This will need to be addressed.

3. Networking. WebRTC deployments must also address firewall and NAT traversal complications through STUN/TURN/ICE solutions. Specialized networks and services can be used to support large scale deployments that satisfy enterprise security expectations rather than peer to peer scenarios.

4. The support of WebRTC by the major browsers. Often, universal support by browsers is asserted to be a necessity for WebRTC success. But there are already billions of endpoints enabled by Chrome and Firefox. Plug-ins for Safari and Internet Explorer are available. Many large Internet companies have experimented in recent weeks with WebRTC features; however, they don't appear to be waiting for universal support -- rather they just expose these features for supporting browsers. This issue may become even more moot in thesecond half of 2015, as Microsoft's new Spartan browser is generally expected to incorporate WebRTC.

Making the connection

WebRTC is absolutely poised to make Web access to conferencing simpler, but it is a technology and not a service. It will not solve inherent public Internet networking issues on its own although the advanced codecs it specifies can help. And while it is a hot topic among telephony experts, it has not yet caught on among its real intended audience: Javascript & Web developers.

The first wave of successful WebRTC implementations likely won't advertise WebRTC at all, but will be quietly and simply embedded into a web user experience alongside other tried and true modes of access such as telephone numbers, smart phone apps and dedicated applications.

By Hugh Goldstein, VP Strategic Alliances at Voxbone. He can be reached at [email protected].


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