WebRTC: Game changer or time waster?

At this coming weeks European VoIP Summit, I am speaking on the panel titled, WebRTC – Game changer or time waster? This is a subject that has been discussed to death over the last couple of years at industry gatherings. The title of the panel discussion seems to indicate that some are beginning to tire with WebRTC.

I am not sure how it happened but at some point WebRTC has been implanted into the industry psyche as a wonder technology that will be a huge disruptor in telecoms. I think that a lot of this hype emanates from ‘thought leaders’ like Dean Bubley whose Disruptive Analysis blog introduced many to WebRTC. Dean’s early reporting of WebRTC should have woken people up to the technology but I cannot help but wonder that anyone still undecided by it’s importance might be those that will be sitting it out.

The format of panels makes it difficult to discuss a topic in any real detail. So just in case my panel session does not give me the chance or you are not attending this weeks VoIP summit, here are some of my thoughts on WebRTC and who I think is best placed to benefit from the technology.

WebRTC is a user to user technology, it connects two or more people at the browser level and provides the plumbing to then share text, video and audio content directly. The obvious uses are instant messaging, conference applications and voice calls but there are a multitude of uses where WebRTC can add features to existing services. Regardless of the application, there must exist a strong user model to form the foundation of any WebRTC application. So service providers without a strong user model will find it difficult to capitalise on WebRTC. The majority of VoIP providers and channel resellers that I know in the UK have focussed on providing telephone replacement services and have little or no multi-user based services provided by web interfaces. They lack the foundations to build WebRTC services. Online services providers with a social media focus, community sites or those that have a strong user model are better placed to provide WebRTC based services. Communities like LinkedIn for example. Our team at Voxhub developed a strong user telephony model right from the beginning and this has meant that we have found it relatively easy to incorporate WebRTC into our existing services.

WebRTC is a developer technology, it adds capabilities to the browser that opens up a world of applications that otherwise required cumbersome and proprietary plugins to achieve the same result. Competent JavaScript developers can bring their existing skills to WebRTC. This greatly increases the number of people that can create WebRTC applications. In my opinion the World Wide Web exists today only because it was easy for people to write HTML. The greater the number of people that can get involved, the greater the potential and chances of success for a technology. JavaScript is slowly becoming the dominant programming language on the Internet. So it will be online service providers and those with strong development teams that will be best placed to capitalise on WebRTC. It often amazes me at the VoIP industry events how few people I meet are from Internet software backgrounds or have any development ambitions further than their own online management portals. The telecom industries’ reliance on selling rather than developing is a huge weakness. The whole channel market relies on selling products and services developed by other people. So perhaps it is those with reliance on others to develop or provide WebRTC services for them that view it as a time waster?

WebRTC is an enabling technology. It is just one important component that goes towards the overall movement of software replacing and enhancing traditional markets. At the moment everyone in the telecoms industry is concerned with service differentiators, WebRTC provides an opportunity to develop those differences but only to companies that are prepared to invest in service and software development. WebRTC might prove to be a game changer for some but in my opinion the game changer for the industry is software.

Dan Winfield is CEO at Voxhub a telephony service that is clever enough to work the way your business does. Wherever or however you choose to run your business, Voxhub will unite your company to act as one when it comes to using the telephone. Voxhub is a privately owned service developed and operated by our own in house team.

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