WebRTC: Where Telecom Meets the Web

Next Generation Communications Blog

WebRTC: Where Telecom Meets the Web

By Ed Elkin, Marketing Director, Advanced Communication Solutions, Alcatel-Lucent

WebRTC is giving apps a voice and operators new revenue opportunities.

I communicate all day long, but it’s always bifurcated between voice and the web. Last December's Consumer Electronics Show, however, showed me these two worlds will soon be merging thanks to a new technology called Web Real Time Communications (WebRTC).

Technically, WebRTC equips a browser with a standardized structure for communications clients, consisting of native functions for audio, video, and data exchange -- and that’s cool for the side of me that enjoys technology.  Appealing to my business side, WebRTC is a catalyst for innovation because it reduces the heavy work of interworking clients between devices and browsers, and because it avoids the tedious download and installation of thick, heavy clients.  That combination of technical and business niceties explains why fast movers in the industry are excited by WebRTC.  

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) coordinate the WebRTC standards, which have strong engagement across established companies and startups, including browser manufacturers, app developers, service providers, and network vendors. Already Google Chrome includes it as of Release 23, and Firefox begins to include it as of Release 20. WebRTC is happening, and it’s happening fast.

At CES, WebRTC was highlighted in a smartphone trends panel (on which I was a panelist) and in Alcatel-Lucent’s booth where I met with service providers and application developers. In our booth, demonstrations melded several third-party applications with our network technology, creating new service concepts by which service providers can earn new revenues.

When talking with service providers, their key question to me was how to stimulate the app developers.  So I explained that during tradeshows two years ago, it was a big challenge for folks who weren’t intimately familiar with IMS and SIP. Yet, this year, I could easily point to five of our 12 demos where app developers used New Conversation APIs and WebRTC to simplify how their apps used voice, video, presence, and messaging. 

The result was that these specialized app developers (who understand and have neat ideas about healthcare providers, proximity radio apps, digital signage, and fleet management) were freed to create a great app while easily incorporating advanced communications from an IMS service provider.

When the Smartphone Trends panel’s discussion turned to WebRTC, it was all about breaking down barriers.  I think WebRTC will remake smartphones, blurring the boundary of how we communicate on phones and consumer electronic devices.  Already I see that a key smartphone feature is the network to which it is connected, with LTE boosting usage and speeding the mobile broadband ecosystem’s innovation cycle. 

The next step that distinguishes smartphones’ capabilities is the core network’s service control that bridges telecom and web. Networks that have it will enable users to readily communicate across any of their devices, apps, or websites, using the fuller human dynamic of seamless voice, video, and messaging. 

When I look to the future, I see that that the service providers who can bridge telecom and the web are those that use an IMS that is equipped with developer-friendly network server APIs and WebRTC. Those complementary technologies turn a regular IMS into a platform for rapid innovation. With WebRTC, that innovation is extended from things that look like phones to any consumer electronic device that has a browser. The result is a remake of the service providers’ competitive field, enabling them to re-engage consumers, enterprises, and app developers. That’s the excitement, and it’s driving a lot of fast movers. 

Bridging telecom and the web is a challenge, but the rewards are huge because it moves communications from being a traditional service to communications as a feature inside of apps, websites, and browsers, changing the way we think about communications altogether.

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