InterComms :: International Communications Project
  Intercomms Issue 23

Voxbone logoWebRTC: the Next Big Growth Phase of IP Communications?

By Hugh Goldstein, VP, Strategic Alliances at Voxbone

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Hugh Goldstein VP, Strategic Alliances, Voxbone
Hugh Goldstein VP
Strategic Alliances, Voxbone

Since its first presentation in early commercial products, Voice over IP (VoIP), or IP Communications, has had the potential to fundamentally revolutionize the multi-billion dollar communications industry. Some of the first innovators focused on consumer products that offered free, unmetered peer-to-peer (P2P) voice and video to anyone with a computer and dial-up Internet connection. In a period where phone companies were still monopolies and often charged exorbitant per-minute rates to call internationally, this was indeed quite revolutionary. However, the Internet was still very new, connections were slow and computers were relatively weak. As a result, the experience didn't always work very well all the time. Furthermore, telcos weren’t exactly supportive of the idea of “long distance” being a free service for anyone that purchased software for their PC, and so they relegated VoIP to being a bit of a toy, and not up to their own standards.

The first inflection point

This is why many in the telecommunications industry took notice in 1997 when German national PTT carrier Deutsche Telekom invested millions of dollars in a small start-up exclusively focused on VoIP called VocalTec. In retrospect, it was an inflection point in the industry and very soon after, the entire carrier networking equipment industry began to look at how to leverage Voice over the Internet. A gap rapidly emerged between the consumer-oriented and carrier-grade implementations. Much of the venture capital investment at the time focused on the carrier side of this business, resulting in time and money spent in creating carrier-grade systems for rate arbitrage, and in long-term migrations to IP core networks, and of course, in standardization.

But the free telephony for consumer-oriented solutions opportunity did not disappear. Skype jumped into the vacuum created by the other companies focusing on slower-moving telcos and created its massively successful proprietary P2P communications network. Skype and others like it fulfilled the dream of free telephony for hundreds of millions of people, but it was still proprietary and a closed island-like network experience for users.

This brings us to the present: the revolutionary vanguard of IP Communications has not given up on the dream of a truly free and open global real-time communications. This has resulted in a new chapter in IP Communications: WebRTC.

What is WebRTC?

WebRTC is a standard that enables secure Web browser-based real-time voice, video and collaboration over the Internet. WebRTC relies on JavaScript APIs, libraries, public intellectual property codecs for voice and video, and native encryption. WebRTC is exciting, as it is poised to enable millions of web developers to integrate advanced features into websites and applications – work that previously would have required the rarer and more expensive skillset only held by perhaps a few thousand advanced communications software engineers.

WebRTC can be deployed in a P2P approach or with servers in between, and enables voice, video or collaboration. Some SIP equipment companies and managed SIP services are also implementing devices and services that can help websites and enterprises offer click-to-call and click-to-join via SIP to WebRTC gateway functionality.

The road to mass adoption

Skeptics say there are challenges for the mass adoption of WebRTC, including managing many different browsers and mobile devices, and getting buy-in from the entire industry with players that might lose revenue or market share from its openness. But the list of developer API platforms, services and applications supporting WebRTC grows week by week. The future looks bright for WebRTC, and many think we are looking at the fulfillment of the original dream of VoIP. Which just may be the biggest strategic inflection point for the telecom industry yet!

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