WebRTC Edges Ahead

2 Feb 2017

I have been a strong advocate of the web-based transformation that WebRTC will introduce to real time communications. In the UC world, we have seen an increasing number of traditional telecom apps, new UC/Workflow entrants like Spark and Circuit, as well as a range of new applications and integration come into the market with WebRTC. But for the last three years, the first comment that the naysayers have made is that Microsoft and Apple do not support WebRTC. Never mind that Chrome and Firefox are gaining in popularity, the fact that Edge and Safari did not support WebRTC was always the primary reason to continue with proprietary implementations, often based on last decade or even last millennium technology. Now the number of holdouts is down to one. Microsoft announced yesterday that they are stepping up to provide WebRTC 1.0 support, while increasing the drive for the additional functionality in ORTC.

On Wednesday, Microsoft just announced that the preview availability of the WebRTC 1.0 API, and support for the H.264/AVC and VP8 video codecs for RTC in Microsoft Edge, enabling plugin-free, interoperable video communications solutions across browsers and platforms."

The WebRTC 1.0 capabilities are available immediately in Windows Insider Preview builds and will be in stable releases beginning with the Windows 10 Creator's Update.

While ORTC support has been available in Edge in EdgeHTML 13 (Windows 10 version 1511) for awhile, the company states that the goal of the WebRTC 1.0 API implementation is to provide interoperability with legacy WebRTC implementations on existing websites, which leverage the WebRTC API as previously deployed in other browsers.

Microsoft's Edge WebRTC 1.0 API implementation provides support for peer-to-peer audio and video based on a subset of the W3C WebRTC-PC API circa 2015, prior to the addition of the WebRTC object model. The Microsoft release of WebRTC 1.0 is focused on legacy interoperability (including mobile applications built from early versions of the WebRTC.org source code); there are no plans to further update the native WebRTC 1.0 API beyond this release.

The WebRTC 1.0 release in Edge is focused to enabling Edge users to interact with users in the current WebRTC world. Microsoft remains committed to making the ORTC capabilities part of the standard and will focus there going forward.

The Edge RTC stack provides support for both H.264/AVC and VP8, delivering interoperable video communications between Microsoft Edge and other major WebRTC browsers and RTC services. Microsoft indicates that they have implemented specific congestion control and robustness mechanisms for both H.264/AVC and VP8 video codecs.

While the Edge H.264/AVC implementation supports hardware offload within both the encoder and decoder, VP8 is implemented purely in software, and may exhibit higher power consumption and CPU loads. While most modern PCs running Edge should have plenty of horsepower, Microsoft recommends caution on older or lower powered devices.

Clearly, Microsoft is demonstrating an ongoing commitment to open communications in the Real Time Web. They are adding support for the W3C Screen Capture specification, as well as improved support for enterprise scenarios. Microsoft has made the WebRTC 1.0 preview builds available today, and is looking for adopters to test the release and provide feedback.

The WebRTC 1.0 implementation in Edge addresses the rapidly growing segment of the market that has upgraded to Windows 10 or Edge, however, for users or organizations still using Explorer, there are plug-ins available from companies like Temasys. I hope that many Explorer users see this as a valuable reason to upgrade to Edge.

I strongly believe Microsoft is to be commended for realizing that open interoperable web-based communications is transformational and critical to creating a wide range of next generation applications and user experiences. Personally, I look forward to using Edge and trying the WebRTC implementation with all my favorite WebRTC applications and to test interoperability with other WebRTC browsers and mobile apps. So now there is just one browser hold-out. Here's hoping Apple follows Microsoft's lead with Safari!


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