When it comes to video collaboration, everyone is talking about WebRTC. But what is WebRTC and what does it mean for partners? These are good questions. But they don't come with fast or easy answers, especially since WebRTC has yet to hit the mainstream.
WebRTC, or Real Time Communications, is an emerging open source video standard being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Backed by Google and Mozilla, WebRTC enables browser-to-browser applications for video chat, voice calling and peer-to-peer file sharing without plug-ins.
While still in the early stages, WebRTC has the potential to supplant device-native apps with Web-based ones that work on any device. Ideally, WebRTC will help the proliferation of video communications by making it more accessible to users via a browser. "The browser is the democratizing factor for endpoints; every business user uses the Web at this point," noted Hyoun Park, principal analyst for Nucleus Research.
Notably, WebRTC has not been endorsed by Apple or Microsoft, two of the biggest names in mobility and collaboration, presumably because WebRTC competes with their proprietary FaceTime and Lync products, respectively.
Indeed, the arrival of WebRTC, a free and easy-to-use capability, appears to circumvent legacy video collaboration models.
"What WebRTC does do is create the potential for an explosion of browser-based video endpoints, which will only connect to other endpoints running the same standard," Wainhouse Research analyst Bill Haskins told Channel Partners.
Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research, agreed. "WebRTC has some potential as it brings video to the browser. However, it doesn't interoperate with legacy video, so in the short term it creates another island."
Islands of video conferencing have become commonplace over the years as vendor hardware and software did not work well together. While that's changing, with legacy vendors complying with standards and ensuring that their systems interoperate with each other, WebRTC only adds another layer of compliance.
In order to work with new WebRTC apps, video conferencing vendors must build support for the codec into their devices and software. Some already are doing that in anticipation of WebRTC opening video collaboration to millions more people around the world. As a result, those vendors report that they hope to sell their WebRTC-enabled phones to such users, rather than target them with a video conferencing platform.
While some analysts and industry observers are agog over WebRTC and its implications for boosting use of video collaboration, others remain skeptical. Among other things, they question WebRTC's lack of signaling capabilities, which means the standard does not automatically equal pervasive audio and video, for example.