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What WebRTC applications will and won't do for enterprises

What can the enterprise really expect from WebRTC applications? UC analysts and vendors discuss misconceptions around the pre-standardized protocol.

WebRTC -- an emerging standard touting the ability to conduct real-time, peer-to-peer voice and video communications through a browser, no plug-ins necessary -- has the unified communications industry buzzing. But while early WebRTC applications offering ubiquitous voice and video from vendors and API developers are promising, WebRTC is still a nebulous concept for many enterprises.

There is a great deal of hype around what enterprises can expect from WebRTC functionality, and just as many misconceptions. While the protocol will not replace legacy Voice over IP (VoIP) infrastructure or video conferencing systems, early WebRTC applications and capabilities are starting to impact the enterprise, offering simpler and cheaper real-time communications options, said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Mokena, Ill.-based Nemertes Research Group Inc.

Here are several truths and fallacies behind early implementations of WebRTC, as told by two UC industry analysts and two providers currently creating WebRTC-compatible applications products:

WebRTC applications will:

Because of the encryption capabilities associated with the protocol, even financial and healthcare organizations are showing interest in using WebRTC.

Be very useful for consumer-facing enterprises: Public-facing websites are low-hanging fruit for WebRTC in the enterprise. The protocol allows businesses to enhance their sites with click-to-call capabilities for their customers, and businesses won't have to invest in as many trunks or 800-number services with calls coming in from the Internet, Lazar said. "Users will be able to click on a link without downloading any plugins or even picking up a phone to dial," Lazar said. "[Customers] can immediately talk to a real person, much like what many businesses do with text chat functionality on their [Web] sites."

Free users from needing to download clients or use plugins for a video call … eventually: The open-source, pre-standardized protocol is currently enabled in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox Web browsers, with Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari lagging behind. But as long as WebRTC is not supported by all browsers, the standard will still require plugins, said David Stein, principal at Orange County, Calif.-based Stein Technology Group.

Microsoft has plans to support WebRTC -- potentially in its own flavor -- and Apple will most likely support the protocol once it has been finalized, said Alexey Aylarov, WebRTC board member and CEO of Zingaya Inc., a Palo Alto-based provider using WebRTC and Flash to connect calls between Web browsers, landlines and mobile phones.

With WebRTC, enterprises will be able to host both internal and external meetings using a Web browser instead of an installed client. As WebRTC becomes more ubiquitous and developers become more familiar with the standard, businesses will start writing their own WebRTC applications to take advantage of the functionality and cost savings, Nemertes' Lazar said.

WebRTC applications won't:

Present more security obstacles around video calling: There are encryption capabilities when starting up a WebRTC audio or video session, but the clients supporting video conferencing will have to negotiate whether they both support the encryption, said Lazar. Session border controller (SBC) vendors will be a good fit for helping peer-to-peer communications work with an enterprise firewall in place, Stein said.

AnyMeeting, a Web conferencing service provider that uses the browser for its real-time communications services believes that the WebRTC protocol will make Web-based communications more secure for enterprise customers. "The communication paths are encrypted, so anything using WebRTC is probably more secure than a landline," said Costin Tuculescu, AnyMeeting's founder and CEO. AnyMeeting previously used Flash technology for its audio and video meetings, but now is implementing the WebRTC protocol. "We saw WebRTC as a great way to deliver on our promise of easy-to-use, browser-based communication," Tuculescu said.

Replace an enterprise's entire VoIP/video conferencing infrastructure: Software development around WebRTC applications is increasing, but not all businesses will be jumping to replace their legacy systems -- including Microsoft Lync, and Cisco Jabber -- with WebRTC for video and audio meetings. "All the existing enterprise-grade and even consumer technology is a lot of inertia for WebRTC to overcome to be successful," Stein said. “If the protocol delivers on the promise of very little maintenance and support, we might start seeing more adoption.

While WebRTC applications won't replace existing technology, they can help fill the gaps, said Nemertes' Lazar. Many businesses -- especially those with call centers -- are very interested in simplifying customer engagement with WebRTC and working the protocol into their existing workflow. Because of the encryption capabilities associated with the protocol, even financial and healthcare organizations are showing interest in using WebRTC for customer meetings and telemedicine, he said.  

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter. 

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