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Sorting Reasonable from Unreasonable Use Cases and Expectations for WebRTC Applications

Posted by Paul Desmond

May 15, 2015

A post I wrote late last year about WebRTC noted that more and more applications for the technology would be coming out in 2015 and beyond, so I figured it was time to see where things stand.

WebRTC, for Real-time Communications, promises to enable audio, video and data communications in a peer-to-peer fashion from directly within a web browser, without the need for a phone, IP-based PBX, UC server or any other infrastructure. WebRTC_Contact_Center

While it’s still not clear just how widespread use of WebRTC is, the sorts of things companies can do with the technology are coming into focus. In this post, I’ll offer up two of the more useful examples of WebRTC-enabled applications I’ve come across, along with a pair I’m not so sure about.

Contact Centers – a Natural for WebRTC

One of the first applications that most any pundit will point to is contact centers. While many organizations have already implemented chat applications on their web sites, WebRTC opens the door to simplified calling and even video chat.

Companies could place “Click-to-call” buttons on their web sites that enable visitors to easily establish an audio call with a contact center agent – no downloads or widgets required. The same goes for video chat, assuming the end user has a video-capable device. That has the potential to dramatically improve customer satisfaction, especially for support organizations where it can be helpful for customers to be able to show the support tech what the problem is. That could apply to anything from trying to put together a piece of Ikea furniture to figuring out to install a new ice maker in your refrigerator.

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Dig Deeper: Download WebRTC for Dummies for free
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Videoconference With Anyone via WebRTC

Of course it’s not just customer support folks who may find video helpful. With WebRTC, video conference sessions supported by in-house unified communications systems will be able to extend to anyone with a WebRTC-capable browser and video-capable desktop or device.

WebRTC essentially takes away the compatibility issue that has thus far largely kept videoconferences to those using like platforms. The result is it’ll be far easier to include clients, partners and the like on videoconferences with in-house employees.

That said, some sort of plug-in may still be required until all browser vendors implement the same version of WebRTC, rather than putting their own spin on it.

For example, while Microsoft recently pledged support for WebRTC in Internet Explorer, it wasn’t quite the same flavor as that used in Chrome and Firefox. And Microsoft has since announced IE will be phased out and replaced in Windows 10 by a new browser, Microsoft Edge.  Here’s what my old employer Redmond magazine had to say about that, quoting Jacob Rossi, a senior engineer on the Microsoft Web platform team:

Microsoft is planning to expand standards support with [Edge] "in the near future" with support for "Web Audio, Image srcset, @supports, Flexbox updates, Touch Events, ES6 generators, and others," Rossi stated. More distant plans include support for "Web RTC 1.1 (ORTC) and Media Capture (getUserMedia() for webcam/mic access)."

There’s really no telling what “more distant” means in Microsoft-time so we’ll have to keep an eye on that one.

Mobile VoIP and UC Clients – Cheap

Oracle published a short white paper last year that posits WebRTC will essentially be able to replace UC solutions. It says;

Mobile VoIP and UC clients – extend corporate communications services and productivity tools to tablets and smartphones for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or fixed mobile convergence (FMC) initiatives. Eliminate proprietary UC client expenses and support burdens by bringing real-time communications directly to the browser. Reduce international mobile roaming and calling fees with Wi-Fi calling. Move sessions seamlessly between Wi-Fi and mobile broadband for FMC.

I’m not at all sure about eliminating proprietary UC clients, as they would undoubtedly be performing some functions that are out of scope of WebRTC, such as supporting presence capabilities. And it stands to reason you’d get a richer experience with a proprietary client vs. WebRTC. But the international calling point is a good one, as is support for BYOD users who may not need a full-blown UC client.

Extending Over‐the‐Top Services with WebRTC

Here’s another that I’m not totally on board with. The e-book, “WebRTC for Dummies,”  says WebRTC may be a boon for providers of “over the top” services that run on top of existing networks, typically the Internet – think Skype and Netflix. Here’s their take:

Skype requires an app download to a PC or smart-phone/tablet. Netflix requires an app on mobile devices or an installation of Microsoft Silverlight to work on PC web browsers. And once you require downloads and installations, you also require users to install update and keep doing so over time. What a drag.

With WebRTC, there’s no need to install a dedicated application just for communication. In fact, you only have to install the latest web browser (which in many cases will automatically update itself). By leveraging WebRTC, OTT service providers can improve their offerings by making them accessible to more people.

While the point is valid – there is no need for a dedicated application – that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want one. Again, applications have functions that end users find useful. Unless the provider replicated all of those functions on its Web site somehow, I expect users would still happily download the apps. And let’s face it – it’s not such “a drag” to update an app every once in a while; you get a prompt, click a couple/few times, done.

I’m sure we’ll dig up more – and perhaps more innovative – uses for WebRTC over time. If you know of any, by all means let us know in the comments below.

Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the two paragraphs from the “WebRTC for Dummies” e-book to a story at SearchUnifiedCommunications.com. TheUCbuyer regrets the error.

 

 

Topics: Voice, video, Contact Center, Business Case, WebRTC