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WebRTC & What It Means For You

April 5, 2016

An Introduction to WebRTC

So what is WebRTC and why does it matter?

Remember a world when video phones were a thing of the imaginary future? When Austin Powers held a video call – in his car? (That was less than 20 years ago, by the way).

It seemed feasible – but far off – that we could hold clear, reliable video & audio calls from anywhere.

That idea is no longer a fantasy. While video and VoIP conferencing have been available for years, new technologies make web-based conferencing increasingly more available, affordable, and dependable.

While most legacy web conferencing technologies require an external application download (think Skype, GoToMeeting, etc.), WebRTC ends that requirement. Video & audio calls can occur seamlessly, without any plugins, between browsers. This peer-to-peer communication comes embedded in your web browser that, let’s be honest, you probably already have open 95% of the time you use a computer anyways. WebRTC also connects mobile devices to desktop browsers and vice-versa, allowing for real-time communication regardless of device.

This relatively recent development means that legacy hardware and software may no longer be necessary to communicate quickly and clearly with people around the globe from any device. Ultimately, WebRTC technology will facilitate all types of interactions around the world, including those in healthcare, education, business, e-commerce, and more. At the same time, it has a long way to go before it’s universally adopted by app developers and browsers.

How do I access WebRTC?

WebRTC technology is now integrated into most major web browsers (Google developed the technology back in 2011). As a consumer, you can access WebRTC through hundreds of products that use this technology.

A few of these products include:

  • Google Hangouts
  • Amazon Mayday
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Sqwiggle Team Communication
  • Zendesk Customer Support
  • Truclinic Telemedicine
  • Skype for Web

What are its strengths?

WebRTC helps users communicate effectively in real-time. It’s device-agnostic and free to use, which means unlimited opportunities for usage and adaptation. Users can transmit audio and video instantly without external software or hardware.

Other benefits include:

  • Free, open API: It is possible for both companies and individuals to access and build WebRTC products for free, opening up a world of possibilities for communication tools.
  • “WebRTC is democratic.”Doug Green, editor and publisher of Telecom Reseller
  • Encryption: Encrypted communications ensure secure voice and video transmission across networks.
  • Quality maintenance: Through the course of a call, quality adjusts automatically based on bandwidth availability and network conditions. Bandwidth, therefore, is used more efficiently.
  • Scalable for small business: WebRTC tools are simple to implement and can be more affordable than legacy conferencing systems too, reducing setup time for small to mid-sized businesses that may not have a dedicated IT professional on hand.

What are its limitations?

  • WebRTC communication requires an internet connection. If you can’t access the internet, you’re out of luck when it comes to WebRTC. In some cases, traditional conference calling may be a better option.
  • Every participant must have an up-to-date device and browser in order to support WebRTC communications. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox were early WebRTC adopters and most WebRTC applications should function properly when used with those browsers. Microsoft recently introduced WebRTC support in its new Windows 10 Edge browser (but not in its older browser, Internet Explorer). Apple’s Safari browser still does not support WebRTC technology. Each browser supports some features, but not all. It will likely take some time for this industry to standardize across the board.
  • WebRTC technology is constantly being updated, and some software may be more well-suited for WebRTC usage than others.

While the opportunities for WebRTC technology are vast, there are still plenty of obstacles for it to reach widespread adoption. It is, however, an opportunity for innovation and progress in the collaboration and communications industry to help people communicate better and faster.