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Predicting WebRTC technology trends for 2016

WebRTC services and technology saw a landmark year in 2015 with major acquisitions and greater adoption. Take a look forward into 2016 to see where WebRTC is headed.

This time last year, I tried to forecast the future of WebRTC technology. As we are now starting a new year, I'd like to see how I fared in my predictions and take a look forward into 2016.

As I predicted last year, Microsoft did introduce WebRTC -- but not on Internet Explorer 11. The company announced WebRTC support on its newly minted Edge browser with an object real-time communications (ORTC) flavor. However, Microsoft did not update older browsers with WebRTC, as I originally predicted. WebRTC in mobile was not a concern for Microsoft; their focus is Windows on mobile, at the moment.

Apple was nowhere to be seen in 2015 with WebRTC technology -- another accurate prediction.

Enterprise messaging will take UC's place -- the first sign is Cisco Spark's adoption of the Slack UX paradigm.

In 2016, I predict Microsoft Edge will achieve better interoperability, especially on the video front, and will stick to ORTC. That said, the dismal market share of Edge will continue to be a serious issue for Microsoft. Google Chrome will add ORTC support, bringing it on par with Microsoft Edge.

Apple will finally show signs of WebRTC support, as the company will introduce it for both Mac and iOS at roughly the same time. My bet is in the second half of 2016.

This will complete the adoption of WebRTC in Web browsers -- but enterprises won't be convinced. Most will complain they still miss Internet Explorer support and won't invest in transformations toward WebRTC.

Video codecs in WebRTC

In 2015, I predicted Google would support H.264, VP8 and VP9 in Chrome. Google supports VP8 and VP9 under a compilation flag and H.264 is still under development -- a miss on my part. Mozilla Firefox is supporting H.264 and VP8, as I predicted. Microsoft aimed for H.264 but introduced a proprietary H.264UC for now.

I predict, this year, Google Chrome will support H.264, VP8 and VP9. Following Google's footsteps, Mozilla will support H.264, VP8 and VP9 in Firefox. Microsoft will support H.264 in Edge. We might see Microsoft's intent on adopting VP9 near the last quarter of 2016. Apple will support H.264 in Safari.

The Alliance for Open Media that was announced last year and the rebooted WebRTC codec war won't have any real effect in 2016 besides delaying the adoption of H.265 by vendors.

WebRTC API platforms

We've seen three acquisitions of major players in this space:

 No one really left the market last year, but a few vendors are either struggling or pivoting into new areas. A notable pivot is SightCall's move into the visual support domain of customer relationship management (CRM).

Another noteworthy trend this past year is how Twilio and TokBox are heading in different directions. Twilio is moving horizontally and beefed up its WebRTC services with the introduction of video, IP messaging, queuing and a slew of other capabilities in 2015. While I assumed TokBox would merge with other Telefonica assets and capabilities, it went in the opposite direction, deepening its video chops and introducing broadcasting capabilities.

AT&T, Circuit and Bit6 were the new API platforms for WebRTC in 2015. In 2016, we won't see any new market players. However, we will see one or two additional entrants who already offer communication APIs for SMS and voice calling but are adding WebRTC API offerings.

I expect there will be two or more acquisitions in this space, along with two or more vendors who will either close or pivot out of this business.

WebRTC in contact centers

WebRTC technology has been used to replace phones inside contact centers. Companies such as Zendesk, LiveOps and Freshdesk introduced WebRTC in their CRM and support systems with very positive uptake from their customers.

Wishful thinking for 2016 is that VP9 will be available in all browsers and be the de facto video codec of the Web.

WebRTC wasn't popular as widgets on websites last year, as I predicted, and it won't be popular this year, either. The complexity of mandating HTTPS in Chrome for WebRTC will slow this trend even further.

Agent phone replacement will continue to be strong in 2016, but it won't hit the large enterprises yet. It will remain popular in small to mid-sized contact centers.

A lot of the growth in 2016 will come from embedding WebRTC and messaging capabilities in applications as a way to communicate with the contact center.

Video conferencing with WebRTC support

Polycom and Avaya did add WebRTC services in 2015 as predicted. However, their offerings did not change much in the market or for the vendors themselves.

Acano did show healthy growth as it was acquired by Cisco for a rumored $700 million. In that same week, Polycom closed its office in Israel. This shows how disruptive WebRTC is to video conferencing vendors.

In 2016, WebRTC technology in video conferencing will be table stakes. You either have it or you're out of the game; just like the introduction of HD video back in the day.

Video conferencing and unified communications vendors will continue to struggle to find a seat at the table. Enterprise messaging will take UC's place -- the first sign is Cisco Spark's adoption of the Slack UX paradigm.

Broadcast and multipoint

Broadcast solutions with WebRTC are here. TokBox and several other real-time video streaming services are cropping up. In the video multipoint front, Jitsi was acquired by Atlassian, and XirSys started offering WebRTC-based multipoint video as a hosted service.

In 2016, we will see more vendors replacing Flash technology with WebRTC. It will not be a full transformation but rather a transition. For most, WebRTC will reside on the video content creation side, while Flash, MPEG-DASH and HLS will be used for distribution.

Consumer and enterprise VoIP

Enterprise voice innovation continued in 2015, though we didn't see any high-profile vendors joining the game. Switch Communications broke out from the rest of the pack in the enterprise space, raising new money and closing a distribution deal with Sprint. On the consumer side, Facebook fully adopted WebRTC -- a huge win for the technology.

We will see more of the same in 2016. The enterprise will evolve, but will shift toward enterprise messaging. I anticipate Facebook will introduce multiparty conversations with WebRTC.

Possible WebRTC technology game changers

None of the game changers I suggested in 2015 really materialized. The closest one I got is a large messaging platform adopting WebRTC. That platform ended up being Facebook Messenger, which wasn't on my initial list.

Wishful thinking for 2016 is that VP9 will be available in all browsers and be the de facto video codec of the Web. Apple will introduce WebRTC support not only in Safari, but for WebView, which will open the road for cross platform HTML5 mobile apps using WebRTC. Internet Explorer 11 will get a WebRTC treatment, enticing enterprises to adopt it faster.

We had an exciting year for WebRTC technology. Let's hope for an even better one in 2016.

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