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WebRTC-Reality Check 2014
What a difference a year makes. And sometimes not. Both apply to WebRTC, which, even as it builds market share, still lacks the reliability and support from Internet Explorer that many enterprises require.
Net Applications says Internet Explorer has a 58 percent market share on desktops using any OS. They put Chrome at nearly 17 percent of the global browser market. That's slightly less than Firefox, which supports WebRTC, but nearly triple Safari, which doesn't.
But other numbers suggest that the browser hurdle might not be as insurmountable as it appears. For example, StatCounter thinks Chrome was the most widely used browser throughout 2013. Chrome's growing share of the browser market (and WebRTC) are getting a boost from the skyrocketing growth of the Chromebook cloud-based laptop market. Chromebooks represented 21 percent of all U.S. laptops sold in 2013, up from virtually zero in 2012, according to the NPD Group.
"At this point, we expect WebRTC to be adopted more on the consumer side, where Safari and Internet Explorer users are open to downloading other browsers and in certain browser-controlled environments," says Oded Gal, Blue Jeans Networks' product vice president. "One example would be the Chromebook laptops thatgained traction in education.
More consumers using Chrome and other WebRTC-enabled browsers creates opportunities for B2C applications such as customer service. "Many of our prospects for Avaya One Touch Video are looking to extend browser communications with Flash to a browser communications experience with WebRTC," says Val Matula, Avaya's senior director of multimedia technologies. "Fundamentally, these technologies allow businesses to communicate with customers within their browser window, with a potential purchase still in the basket or a form ready to be completed. Such enhancements help businesses avoid an abandoned shopping cart or an abandoned application due to a question."
Meanwhile, at least some Chromebooks are going to businesses. That adoption bodes well for WebRTC as a B2B medium, especially among enterprises that don't want employees downloading software--such as Chrome--to company-issued PCs.
Chromebooks and WebRTC-enabled browsers on other devices are also ways for enterprises to extend video conferencing to all employees for less than if they had to equip all of them with specialized video endpoints. The technology to connect WebRTC to traditional video conferencing systems enables a variety of B2B and B2C applications.
"You have to take enterprise-grade video and integrate it with consumer-grade WebRTC," says Ken Davison, Magor CMO and senior vice president of sales. "Because we can support VP8 codecs and interoperate with H.264 at the same time, that's an application we're looking at. I see WebRTC having some really good apps in SMEs that can't afford a contact center. They can put this in their support or sales process and go straight to a video session for a higher-value service offering."
Technology Improves, but Still Room for Improvement
Over the past year, WebRTC technology has matured to the point that some vendors now use it to replace proprietary parts of their solutions. Voxeet recently replaced a multi-vendor solution with WebRTC as the foundation for the audio stack in its conferencing mobile apps and PC softphones. "WebRTC uses some of the best components available for audio: NetEQ jitter, the latest version of the OPUS codec and a strong transmission model," says Larry Fornallaz,Voxeet CTO and founder. "It's still not perfect, but it's now stable and mature enough to fit our needs.
Fornallaz sees three areas where WebRTC could be further improved:
- Support of more sampling rates (44,100 and 48000) that would allow his company to give better quality
- An acoustic echo canceller working on all Android devices.
- Better performance on mobile devices.
Blue Jeans' Gal agrees: "WebRTC still needs to mature on the media handling side before it can be fully adopted for business purposes. Media improvements are needed around bandwidth management and echo cancellation."
For some applications, WebRTC still lacks the reliability that prospective users want. One example is contact centers, which are concerned that browser lock-up would irritate customers and frustrate agents. "Do I think WebRTC is a great protocol? Do I think its objective is great? Yes," says Matthew Lautz, CorvisaCloud president and CIO. "Do I think it's ready for the contact center? No. I could not put it in a 500-, 600-, 700-seat contact center, or even a 50-seat, and have the level of reliability that our clients demand."
Resistance is Futile?
Any discussion of WebRTC inevitably comes around to whether or when Apple and Microsoft will start baking it into their products. They're certainly 800-pound gorillas, but so are a lot of other companies firmly behind WebRTC.
"Detractors point to the lack of participation from Apple and wavering support from Microsoft in the IETF and W3C WebRTC working groups," says Cary Bran, Plantronics senior director for innovation and new ventures. "[But] the broad-based support of WebRTC in browsers from Google and Mozilla, telecommunications carriers like AT&T and major infrastructure providers like Cisco, the recent acquisitions by Oracle, seem to counterbalance any inhibitors to adoption."
Bran adds that the proliferation of easy-to-use APIs, the promise of interoperability across operating systems and devices, and the benefit of scalable, over-the-top deployments that allow the reuse of existing infrastructure investments will accelerate adoption.
It may not be unreasonable to suggest that Apple, Microsoft or both will eventually go with the industry flow because they won't have any choice. "Developers will use SDKs to build apps that leverage WebRTC on the iPhone/Pad and Windows Phone," says Peter Crocker, Smith's Point Analytics founder and principal analyst. "Mobile OSs don't need to support the technology out of the box due to the availability of Cloud RTC platforms and SDKs. Granted, users will have to download the app.
"With more and more mobile users communicating using WebRTC-based apps, I think browsers that don't support it will be at a disadvantage. Consequently, as the technology gains traction, Microsoft and Apple will have to support WebRTC." TPO
Where Did We Get the Data?
The statistics used to illustrate this article came from a survey of attendees to the WebRTC World Conference & Expo as well as opt-ins to the WebRTC World eNewsletters by PKE Consulting in February of 2014 for their 2014 WebRTC Outlook 2014 Report. The survey solicited both specific responses as well as open-ended questions. 105 responses were received with 60-70 percent responding to all of the fill-in questions giving a solid response from a sophisticated cross-section of industry participants.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
TIM KRIDEL has been covering the pro AV industry since 2003 for publications such as AV Technology, InAVate, Pro AV, Sound & Video Contractor and Telepresence Options, as well as InfoComm's Special Reports series. Since 1998, he also has been covering telecom for a variety of publications and analyst firms. For more information, visit www.timkridel.com.
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