What is WebRTC?

10 January 2013

WebRTC is a standard under development by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) designed to enable browser-to-browser applications for audio, video and peer-to-peer file sharing without additional plug-ins.


This represents a significant step forward from the days of the original HTTP technology, where browsers could only make requests to return pages, and could lead to applications like Instagram and Skype within a browser, live video streaming via mobile phones and easy file distribution.

It will also enable a web developer to code RTC capabilities into their web page for web browsers without problems associated with development and deployment.

Which companies are backing WebRTC?

Google is one of the main players leading the development of WebRTC with an open source project to enable developers to easily implement their own RTC web applications. The open source aspect of Google’s offering is particularly important as it has made the technology available to reuse, modify and create derivatives, preventing control by a closed group of engineers or companies.

Google used its acquisition of Global IP Solutions to provide the core components of its WebRTC platform and the latest version of its browser, Google Chrome, is WebRTC enabled.

Microsoft has also given support to WebRTC but has proposed a different approach named CU-RTC-Web. The IT giant has an interest in the manner in which WebRTC develops as it will have a major impact on its subsidiary Skype and other messaging applications in its portfolio.

Skype has been working on a browser-based version of its software but Microsoft is reportedly not keen to support WebRTC on its own browser, Internet Explorer, until the standard has been defined.

The company also believes the current draft standard for the technology falls short as it shows no signs of real world interoperability with existing VoIP phones and mobile phones, from behind firewalls and across routers and does not allow an application to control how media is transmitted on the network.

Opera and Mozilla Firefox are  planning to support WebRTC by implementing the getUserMedia API into their browsers, but Apple, which develops the Safari browser, has so far been quiet on its intentions for WebRTC.

What impact will WebRTC have?

The framework of WebRTC is still under development and it is likely to take some time before the standard becomes widely adopted but it is expected to disrupt telecoms companies, video conferencing providers and OTT players in the future.

This is because the technology is not bound to any legacy infrastructure and is able to use both peer-to-peer and traditional models.

Phil Edholm, president and founder of PKE Consulting, suggests WebRTC will enable each website to essentially become its own “service provider†without a requirement for any relationship to a party outside of itself and the user it is enabling to communicate.

How will it affect carriers and OTT players?

For carriers, WebRTC can be considered both a threat and an opportunity as it will disrupt communications services but also present a new source of revenue for those willing to embrace it.

In order to pursue opportunities in WebRTC, Tsahi Levent-Levi, director of business solutions at Amdocs, suggests that carriers should engage with the web developer community and deliver value to WebRTC applications and services.

Some of the opportunities he earmarks include session-based charging for WebRTC, merging the carrier instant messaging platform Rich Communications Services (RCS) with WebRTC, quality of service assurance premiums on WebRTC communications and offering server side infrastructure components to enable WebRTC as a service to customers.

In addition, offering WebRTC termination to PSTN and GSM networks and WebRTC signalling are also considered viable opportunities for carriers to generate revenue.

On the OTT side, services like Skype and Lync are likely to be impacted by the introduction of WebRTC. The majority of OTT business models revolve around reaching as many users as possible but restricting them within the confines of a downloadable application or client, preventing communication between two different services such as WhatsApp and Viber.

WebRTC places control firmly in the hands of the user by removing the need to download individual clients for each vendor and to create a user ID, while also removing restrictions imposed by a lack of cross client compatibility. This will force many of today’s OTT players To change their business model to remain competitive.

Which carriers are investing in WebRTC?

One carrier that has already invested in the WebRTC space is Telefónica, through its acquisition of TokBox in October 2012.

TokBox is a specialist in live video-based communications services through websites and mobile applications and Telefónica said it plans to use the company’s OpenTok Video Platform to offer business and consumer customers cross platform web-based video communications.

The Spanish carrier plans to offer the solution both directly through custom solutions and through the provision of APIs and applications, allowing businesses and developers to produce their own services.

Other carriers that are investigating opportunities in WebRTC include AT&T, France Telecom-Orange and Deutsche Telekom.

Topics: WebRTC, World Wide Web Consortium, W3C, Internet Engineering Task Force, IETF