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What is WebRTC?

WebRTC: A Summary

“WebRTC is a new front in the long war for an open and unencumbered web”

– Brendan Eich, Mozilla CTO and inventor of JavaScript

WebRTC has the potential to revolutionise the communications industry.

What is WebRTC?

WebRTC, which stands for Web Real Time Communications, is a transformative piece of technology that allows (as you may have guessed from the name) real time communications over the web.

WebRTC is not an application, but rather should be thought of as infrastructure.

To give some context as to the benefits webRTC provides, consider the conventional options for using video or audio to communicate between parties over the internet. You have to download a cumbersome plugin, or alternatively use a separate application such as Skype.

What if anybody with a browser or mobile device could video call and collaborate, without needing special applications or having to download plugins?

WebRTC solves this problem. Video, audio and other data can be transferred directly between browsers, without the need for plugins or separate applications.

WebRTC gives greater capability to the browser itself.

What are the implications?

In a broader context, it reduces barriers to communication.

From a usability standpoint video, voice and data transfer can be seamlessly offered from within another context. Communication can be a feature, instead of a standalone product.

WebRTC is the catalyst for easily accessible video, and employees wishing to talk via conference no longer need to download special software with unnecessary logins.

Online collaboration is becoming increasingly widespread, and WebRTC allows increased productivity and access. People can cobrowse and share data whilst they are browsing websites.

Convenience and user experience is far greater for everyone. You don’t have to leave the context of an application or website in order to begin communicating. Just one click is required, with no need for a complicated log-in feature.

Any examples?

AT&T, Cisco, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all using WebRTC.

American Express high net worth clients use an app where they can video call an agent at any time and cobrowse their investment portfolio.

Firefox Hello allows friends to cobrowse and video call each other during browsing sessions.

A creative use case is Double Robotics

What does it mean for contact centres?

Customers no longer have to communicate with companies through disparate channels. Who wants to leave a browsing session to navigate an IVR, only to have to repeat all the information you have already entered online?

Companies can now offer interactions from within the context of their web presence. Experts can join customers during their browsing session, with no need to leave.

WebRTC offers advantages beyond video and audio. Companies can now offer collaboration tools such as cobrowsing and file sharing to their customers. To reiterate, this is all achieved in one seamless session with no popups, downloads, or plugins.

From a customer’s perspective, they are one click away from being able to talk to companies using video and audio. Being able to escalate from browsing, to text chat, to video and cobrowsing in a single session is obviously a huge plus in a world where convenience is a priority.

Think your legacy systems may hold you back from using WebRTC? Some vendors offer WebRTC/SIP integration meaning issues such as traversing firewalls and recording interactions are not a problem. WebRTC makes use of capability native to the browser so internet access is all that is required! The only additional purchase may be a webcam if you require video.

Where did it come from?

WebRTC is the culmination of Google acquiring several technologies and releasing them as open source in 2011. Since then, it has been supported by the W3C, which is the international standards organisation for the internet. In conjunction with the IETF they will ensure the protocols are standardised across the globe in the future.

How does it work?

WebRTC makes use of 3 main Javascript APIs. Think of an API (Application Program Interface) as a machine-to-machine communication interface.

The 3 APIs are:
MediaStream - which acquires audio and video;
PeerConnection - which communicates audio and video;
DataChannel - which communicates arbitrary data.

The combination of these allows browsers to use and send audio/video/data to other browsers, where it is displayed.

WebRTC does not include or prescribe a signalling method. This is preferable for companies and developers who can implement the method of their choice.

Is it secure?

Yes! WebRTC explicitly requires permission from the user to allow use of their microphone and camera. End-to-end encryption between peers means data is always sent securely. Having no software to download is an obvious security benefit.

What does the future hold?

WebRTC on its own is merely a technical achievement, albeit an impressive one. Its true value is as an enabler for great new solutions.

As with any new technology in transition, it is the real world uses that will drive adoption. As more valuable new services are created, more people will use them, which in turn will stimulate demand for more services. There are countless opportunities for both vendors and companies to benefit from the changing technological landscape.

Given the inherent advantages of the technology, it is not hard to imagine a day when WebRTC enabled communications solutions are proliferate. As VoIP calling and OTT apps increase in proliferation, phone numbers are becoming less and less relevant. Perhaps all contact centre calls in the future will be through a WebRTC powered website and app system.

WebRTC is an opportunity for internet-based communication to become instant, easy, and truly intuitive. How great would that be?