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Enterprise Connect 2016: Special conference coverage

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WebRTC conference to gauge the technology's progress

A WebRTC conference at Enterprise Connect will check the health of the browser-based communications technology, as many enterprises are using WebRTC without knowing it.

Editor's note: Leading up to Enterprise Connect, a major UC conference, SearchUnifiedCommunications spoke with...

UC analyst Irwin Lazar to gauge the industry's latest trends. In this article, Lazar discusses the current state of WebRTC.

When WebRTC burst onto the UC scene about five years ago, the free browser-based communications technology was hailed as a game-changer and serious challenger to established UC platforms. Perhaps it was overhyped and expectations were too lofty.

WebRTC, an open source project, was developed to embed real-time voice, text and video communications into Web browsers. Instead of threatening incumbent UC vendors, however, vendors are integrating WebRTC into their systems.

Another wrinkle in WebRTC's progress has been the emergence of Object Real-Time Communications (ORTC), an open source variation of WebRTC that enables mobile endpoints to talk to servers and Web browsers. Microsoft is championing the use of ORTC over WebRTC, while Google and Firefox have stuck with WebRTC.

Enterprise UC users can leverage WebRTC to embed rich communications into their business applications, which can help streamline and enhance everyday workflows. However, despite its potential, WebRTC development is currently stalled by browser and video codec incompatibility.

For a fourth straight year, Enterprise Connect will host a WebRTC conference within the main conference to provide a yearly checkup on the latest WebRTC developments. Enterprise Connect runs from March 7 to 10 in Orlando, Fla.

WebRTC conference provides a reality check on the browser-based technology.WebRTC is supported by
Google, Mozilla
and Opera.

The WebRTC conference will show users how they can enable click-to-call or click-to-video in their websites for customer-facing integration. Additionally, the WebRTC conference will feature innovators who have built a language translation application, a mobile college campus safety app and a headset that can speak to a WebRTC client.

Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research, co-chairs the WebRTC conference. SearchUnifiedCommunications spoke with Lazar to take the pulse of WebRTC.

What's the current status of WebRTC?

Right now, the two sweet spots for [WebRTC] in the enterprise are customer-facing.
Irwin Lazaranalyst, Nemertes Research

Irwin Lazar: When I talk with enterprises and ask them, 'What are your plans around WebRTC?' you tend to see very little adoption. They may say, 'Not really interested,' or, 'Don't think it works with every browser.'

But Facebook Messenger uses it. Unify uses it. Cisco Spark uses it. So, you're seeing WebRTC work its way into the enterprise without people realizing they're deploying it.

Right now, the two sweet spots for it in the enterprise are customer-facing -- like adding click-to-call to a website so someone can place a call directly from the website, if they have a headset and speakers, versus picking up the phone to call. The other area is video services, like Amazon Mayday.

WebRTC is also of interest to developers who want to add rich communications to their applications and do it as easily as possible; they just take the WebRTC library and bake it into their app.

So, vendors are using WebRTC. It's not threatening them?

Lazar: Not at all, it's just being interfaced into their systems. There was some initial talk early on that if everyone's got a WebRTC browser, and there's a directory, then users could find and call each other through their browsers without using any telco. But the security issues would be overwhelming.

When SIP came out, it was the same idea. People said we didn't need a PSTN anymore; if I know your IP address, I can place a call to you. But how do you lock that down to only allow in people who you trust versus spammers writing scripts that look for WebRTC clients and call them all day?

The lack of an agreed-upon video codec is still a major issue. It's one of the reasons enterprises are not gung ho to implement WebRTC themselves.
Irwin Lazaranalyst, Nemertes Research

What's hampering WebRTC?

Lazar: The lack of an agreed-upon video codec is still a major issue. It's one of the reasons enterprises are not gung ho to implement WebRTC themselves.

They may get it in applications that they use without knowing it. But they're not saying, 'We really need to push WebRTC' -- because it only works with Chrome and Firefox. So, browser [incompatibility] is still the biggest issue. Not even Apple or Edge is supporting the voice capabilities yet.

With WebRTC and ORTC, is there some politicking among vendors to promote certain standards to further their products?

Lazar: The WebRTC 1.0 standard has been adopted by Chrome and Firefox. Microsoft is pushing ORTC, which essentially changes the language that WebRTC clients use to talk to one another.

Microsoft's argument is: '[WebRTC] is inefficient. It's old. We have a better way of doing it. It's called ORTC. And we want to run forward with that and build that into the 1.1 version of WebRTC.'

There's been a ton of back and forth. Some people will tell you that ORTC represents the next step beyond WebRTC. But all it is changing is that negotiation language [that coordinates browsers and codecs to have a voice and video conversation]. The rest of the framework of the protocol is really unchanged.

The rest of the vendors, though -- Firefox, Google -- haven't really bought into what Microsoft is trying to do. At one point they had an agreement, and it seems to have fizzled.

We have a Microsoft speaker [at the WebRTC conference] to hopefully explain their position.

How are service providers getting involved in WebRTC?

Lazar: Sprint, for example, and suppliers to service providers like BroadSoft and Genband are mostly delivering hosted platforms that allow enterprises to write a customer app and have the customer make a call to you through that app or call through the website.

[Service providers] can handle the routing of those calls and provide things like security, protocol translation and whatever else needs to be done to connect those calls back to your internal platform.

Next Steps

What WebRTC applications will and won't do for enterprises

Predicting WebRTC technology trends for 2016

Focus on WebRTC use cases to determine if it's right for you

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Enterprise Connect 2016: Special conference coverage

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