WebRTC: Lifeboat or Torpedo for the VTC

This was the question presented to industry leaders by Wainhouse Research in a roundtable discussion given today. Leaders from Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize and Vidyo all participated in the event.  The discussion was dynamic and there was considerable disagreement between them, as you would expect.

First some background.  WebRTC stands for “Web Real-Time Communications” and is an open source framework (API definition) being drafted by the W3C to enable browser-to-browser applications for voice, video and P2P file sharing without plug-ins. The current implementation is still in progress, and has been adopted in Chrome, Opera and Firefox browsers. IE and Safari have not adopted the standard, as of yet. The three that have, however, account for over one-half of all web-browsing today. So adoption is, in my opinion, inevitable.

What will WebRTC do to the videoconferencing industry?  First and foremost, it will change the nature of videoconferencing endpoints. Every desktop, phone and tablet will essentially be an endpoint device. This scares some vendors, at least the ones that are still heavily focused on room-based systems.  The future, however, does not lie in traditional systems, at least in the opinion of some.  “The primary need is for an infrastructure to support multi-point conferencing that scales,” according to Marty Hollander, former Senior VP – Market Development, Vidyo.

On the other hand, John Antanaitis, VP, Product and Alliance Marketing at Polycom, believes end users like to meet together in rooms.  “It’s cultural,” according to Antanaitis.  Nothing is a panacea and we should not oversimplify the industry by saying everything will end up on a mobile or desktop device.

WebRTC is not a cure-all.  It’s an evolving standard that is far from fully adopted. It will probably be another year or more before it takes hold.  No one knows the timing of IE or Safari adoption and that will certainly drive acceptance. There are also known issues with audio quality and bandwidth management. These issues are key for corporate customers who rely on quality communications and cannot afford a large rollout that severely impacts their bandwidth.

But does the industry care?  The technologists may, but the customer does not, according to Michael Helbrecht, VP and GM, Video Solutions with Lifesize.  He believes that it’s more than just a discussion of different standards and protocols. “No one cares about the technology underneath”. Providers should shy away from making it purely about the technology.  Success is in finding the application that supports the business.

There is no doubt that WebRTC is beginning to get serious attention.  It has had some recent successes, with the announcement that Google and Vidyo have signed an agreement to leverage Vidyo’s bandwidth management to Google’s RTC platform.  We will now combine the power of WebRTC with the benefits of Vidyo’s technology to deliver the best possible experience for our users,” Chee Chew, VP of Engineering at Google, said in a statement.

A champion the size of Google will certainly have an impact on the acceptance of RTC and demonstrates that Vidyo is not afraid of the impact it will have on their market.


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