How Appear.in Led Me To WebRTC
Back in January 2014 in a guest post published on Sheila MacNeill’s How Sheila See IT blog I reported on our experiments with the appear.in tool. This service provides a lightweight video conferencing tool. As I described in the blog post “unlike Skype, no software needs to be installed and unlike Google Hangouts you do not need to sign up to the service“.
Although the blog post and subsequent discussion on Twitter generated some interest in the appear.in service of potentially much more significance is the emerging standard on which the service is based: WebRTC.
WebRTC: The ‘Most Exciting Technology for 2014′
On 30 December 2013 the ESNA Web site announced “WebRTC ‘Most Exciting Technology for 2014′“. The context for this was the view expressed by Davide Petramala that:
2013 was the year of democratizing video, driven by the momentum of WebRTC; Microsoft integrating Skype in its office portfolio; Google launching hangouts; and GVC and Cisco announcing Jabber C. We are finally seeing ubiquitous video across devices that is available to the masses and [we are] moving from consumer use cases (ex: calling family abroad) to business use cases (i.e. group meetings, virtual customer events and customer presentations).
This bog post aims to provide answers to the questions “What is WebRTC?“, “How well is it supported?” and, the big question, “Will it take off?“.
About the WebRTC Standard
The latest W3C’s WebRTC 1.0: Real-time Communication Between Browsers Working Draft was published in September 2013 although an editor’s draft was published 10 April 2014.
The WebRTC Web site states:
and goes on to explain that the mission of the WebRTC organisation is:
Support for the Emerging Standard
From the history of development of Web standards we have learnt that such standards need to have the support of mainstream browser vendors in order to gain market acceptance. In this case the WebRTC initiative is a project supported by Google, Mozilla and Opera (clearly the lack of support from Microsoft is a significant omission).
Support for Developers
In order to enhance take-up of the standard Web RTC is providing a number of resources which are targetted at the developer community including:
- The Intro to WebRTC video
- The Getting Started guide
- The W3C WebRTC API draft
- The HTML5 Rocks guide to WebRTC
- The webplatform.org documentation
As well as a number of discussion channels:
- The W3C Webrtc workgroup list
- TheIETF Rtcweb workgroup list
- TheWebRTC Google+ page.
- TheWebRTC email list.
Note the architecture of WebRTC is shown in Figure 1 (taken from http://www.webrtc.org/reference/architecture).
WebRTC is supported in the following browsers on desktop PCs:
- Google Chrome
- Mozilla Firefox
In addition these browsers also support WebRTC on the Android platform.
Commercial Interest in WebRTC
The WebRTC Global Summit was held in London on 1-2 April 2014.The summary for the event described:
Bringing together leading telcos, mobile operators, OTT/VoIP players, web developers, analysts, regulators and key enterprise players from across the world, WebRTC Global Summit will cover all the key issues in detail from a uniquely commercial and strategic perspective through a mix of incisive keynote presentations and debate. This standalone, single-stream, two-day event will also evaluate the technology’s impact on the industry, asking to what extent will WebRTC revolutionise the communications industry as we know it?
It should be noted that tickets for the event cost up to around £2,000 (although significant discounts were available).
Opportunities and Risks
Since WebRTC is being developed and promoted by significant Web browser vendors (Google, Mozilla and Opera) and we are beginning to see an interest from the telecommunications sector there is evidence to suggest that this may be an important standard to monitor.
However one of the most significant risks appears to be the lack of involvement in the standardisation process from Microsoft and Apple (the WebRTC Outlook 2014 suggests that lack of awareness of WebRTC is the most significant barrier to adoption, followed by lack of support by Microsoft and Apple).
There are mixed messages regarding potential support for WebRTC in Internet Explorer and on the Apple platform.
An article published on Gigaom in August 2012 announced that Microsoft commits to WebRTC – just not Google’s version. As described in the article”Microsoft’s commitment to this kind of technology isa big deal for the future of Skype and other messaging applications“.
Meanwhile in November 2013 WebRTC World published an article with the reassuring title Don’t Worry; Apple Will Soon Support WebRTC which was based on the news that “Apple has started to attend W3C WebRTC Working Group meetings“.
More recently (February 2014) in “An Open WebRTC Letter to Satya Nadella and Microsoft” Phil Edholm, President & Founder, PKE Consulting encouraged the new Microsoft CEO to support WebRTC since “WebRTC is going to be as big as is being forecast (6.2B WebRTC devices by 2016), why risk giving users another reason to get Chrome or Firefox?“.
In the list of biggest barriers to adoption of WebRTC it was interesting to note that lack of standards or developers or limited features of the standard were not regarded as significant barriers. This article aims to address the lack of awareness barrier by ensuring that the higher education community is made aware of the emerging new standard. However the uncertainties of support by Microsoft and Apple are likely to inhibit take-up of the standard across not only the higher education community but the wider market place. Developments to WebRTC will continue to monitored and news of any significant changes in the current stances taken by Microsoft and Apple will be published on this blog.
In addition comments on WebRTC are welcomed. Is anybody currently using it?