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WebRTC: Disruptive Technology with Revenue Potential or It Just Sucks?

The unified communications approach illustrates how disruptive technologies can take a long time to perfect and how users can be impatient.

May 13, 2016

9 Min Read
WebRTC Disruptive Technology with Revenue Potential or It Just Sucks
The homepage for WebRTC explains the novel unified communications tool.

Where are we with WebRTC anyway? Do we stay with SIP or switch to the up and coming WebRTC technology? I’ve noticed that since the beginning of the year some of the most prolific communication industry bloggers have been very critical of the new technology that held such promise over the last five years or so.

No Jitter’s Zeus Kerravala claims that “WebRTC is losing steam.” At TalkingPointz, analyst Dave Michels complains that “WebRTC is a distraction” and exhorts his readers to go out and buy a tried-and-tested solution. Jumping on this, Todd Carothers, EVP of marketing and products at CounterPath argues in his blog that “WebRTC applications are restrictive in terms of the capabilities that can be offered as a true unified communications solution” and holds up his company’s SIP-based VoIP products for consideration instead.

Hang on guys, just because a new technology does work seamlessly doesn’t mean it’ll never get there. Disruptive technologies take a long time to perfect and users can be impatient.

WebRTC’s current status reminds me of my experiences after founding a VoIP service provider 12 years ago. In 2004 I had a channel partner approach me at a trade show who said, “So you’re the CEO of SimpleSignal? I love VoIP technology! I make a lot of money on it.” “Great!” I replied. Then through a big laugh he said, “I make a lot of money taking it OUT of my customers offices that were stupid enough to give it a try.”

Downtrodden, I had to agree. It had it’s issues. But we were close and it really wasn’t “stupid to try.” It just wasn’t perfect yet and people expected “five nines” from their land lines. But the new “cloud” feature set rocked and that’s what gave us the faith as a service provider to stick with this less than perfect technology.

Simultaneous ring was just one mobility feature that changed how I could run my business from anywhere. Add to that the ability VoIP had to integrate into the software I used all day which resulted in a business outcome that was so much better. So I put up with occasional jitter, chop and dropped calls. Yeah, The internet was expensive then and not ready for VoIP. Standards and policies weren’t complete. Fraud and security concerns kept us up at night. God help you if you dialed 911.

Bottom line, VoIP sucked in the early days. But it sucked less than settling for a POTs line.

Innovative service providers might choose to invest some time investigating whether disruptive technologies in early stages are worth some extra patience. WebRTC technology could have the same kind of trajectory as VoIP; initial issues, but features that are better than current options.

Let’s look at what’s good about webRTC right now.

  • It’s free and who doesn’t love free technology? I’m thankful that Google makes so much money on adwords they can give away most of what they do for free. GOOG bought most of the WebRTC IP and let it become open source. Because it’s “open,” it’s a potential source of new revenue for service providers who can figure out how to productize it.

  • It’s browser based which makes it so much easier to use than downloading an app.

  • Because it’s browser based and needs no federation between users, you can make a video call to someone using just their email address rather than numbers. That’s way easier for me to remember.

  • It combines sound, HD video, PDFs and it’s Real Time Communication on the web man! Click and you’re connected. No app to download or proprietary plug-in or client to struggle with. No muss, no fuss.

So how’s it being used now? In an excellent defense of WebRTC, Phil Edholm listed the following use cases:

  • Internet of Things: Connected doorbells, baby monitors and security systems, using a companion app running on a mobile device

  • Closed user communities: Facebook Messenger is an excellent example of this

  • Web-based merchants operating contact centers. As a bonus, you can run the agent-side app in a browser without needing a separate soft client or desk phone, and you can take advantage of omnichannel features such as co-browsing

  • Large-scale videoconferencing: Traditional multipoint control units are expensive and have a limited repertoire of display formats. A type of video switching technology known as a Selective Forwardinng Unit allows the easy customization of display formats — the layout is determined by a Web page without the need for the central server to mix the video output.

  • Contact centers: These represent a strong potential market for WebRTC-based services because people are increasingly using the Web to access customer support information, rather than turning to the Yellow Pages (phone directory) or their existing bills. Customers would find an easier time of accessing real-time interactive customer support services directly through their Web browsers with voice, messaging, and video chat applications. A WebRTC-based service would be an instant direct connection between the consumer and the business, and could decrease time to resolution, lowering customer support costs and increasing customer satisfaction and retention. Many vendors and operators have developed contact center and customer service applications based on WebRTC. For example, LiveOps offers a cloud-based WebRTC-based solution with zero on-premises equipment and Amazon’s Mayday feature on its Kindle tablets allows users to launch video chats with support representatives. Slack, Zendesk and Freshdesk also introduced WebRTC functionality in 2015. (Editor’s update, Nov. 16, 2017: The LiveOps cloud contact center business was acquired by Marlin Equity and is now Serenova. Learn more at serenova.com.)

It is clear that WebRTC is becoming a major part of the fabric of many communications solutions. WebRTC plays a major if not dominant role in three major communications companies: Spark for Cisco, Everything for Google, and within the Zang solution from Avaya. Spark and HipChat are totally based on WebRTC and Zang has a WebRTC component.

The momentum for WebRTC is rapidly accelerating. It is clear that WebRTC is through the hype cycle and well into the adoption cycle. Just because it it took longer than some of us thought, I still believe it is not the time to underestimate the impact of WebRTC and the web model of communications.

Concluding Thoughts

At the end of the day, regardless if they are WebRTC or SIP based, the systems that will prevail in the market are those who find a way to provide customers with a true unified communications experience. The solution that offers high-quality, reliable communications through voice, messaging, presence, and video across platforms, networks, and devices will become the true champion in the UC race.

I’m proud to say I was part of the brave group of Unified Communication pioneers that helped evolve the first wave of VoIP technology that can now address the need of any customer that is looking to communicate and collaborate anywhere, anytime on any device.

It would be foolish to pretend that WebRTC is a plug-and-play technology, as it is evidently quite raw and still evolving. But who knows, you might hear me saying it sucks less than settling for a VoIP connection.
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