With the New Year nearly upon us, now is the time to scrutinize new technologies, business strategies, and capabilities. How will they fit your enterprise? Will they live up to the hype?
WebRTC is an emerging open source project that aims to enable the web with real-time communications capabilities—giving users the ability to conduct peer-to-peer voice and video communications directly through web browsers without needing a plugin.
WebRTC has set the Unified Communications industry to buzzing. But while early WebRTC apps seem promising, WebRTC has yet to see mainstream adoption by enterprises.
So, with WebRTC making the rounds on all of the “Top 10” IT lists (it even makes an appearance on our own), now is the best time to take a closer look and see where WebRTC hits the mark for enterprises, and where the misconceptions lie.
Separating Reality from Hype
There are many expectations and misconceptions as far as what enterprises can expect from WebRTC functionality. Slowed by standards battles around video codecs, the lack of end-user demand, the absence of browser support from Apple and Microsoft, and the high priority challenges facing the UC architects who are attempting to incorporate the standards into their solutions, WebRTC has so far failed to gain the support/demand needed to cross into the mainstream communications market.
In early 2014, Nemertes Research interviewed approximately 200 IT leaders responsible for unified communications strategy, architecture, and operations in end-user companies (not vendors or service providers). During the interviews, the IT experts were asked about their plans for WebRTC adoption. As it turns out, fewer than 7% of the respondents had definitive plans to deploy WebRTC over the next two years, while the vast majority had either no plans, or were still in the evaluation phase.
Here’s a breakdown of what the “early-still” applications of WebRTC will and won’t do:
WebRTC will (eventually):
- Be most useful for public-facing organizations—Businesses with public-facing websites will likely see the most use out of WebRTC. The protocol allows SMBs and Enterprises to enhance their web properties with click-to-call capabilities—features that, up until recently, cost money to have. WebRTC gives public-facing organizations an opportunity to recoup that money—spent on 800-number services that enable browser-based calling, and/or multiple trunk lines. WebRTC will enable customers to talk immediately to the right person, keeping them from having to dial multiple numbers or sift through multiple menus with numerous extensions (hello customer service benefits).
- Free users from extraneous plugins—the opportunity for plugin-less communications is on the horizon. WebRTC will allow enterprises to host internal and external meetings using only a web browser on any device. Once the open-source, pre-standardized protocol is available on all web browsers, the need to download extra plugins will disappear. WebRTC is currently enabled in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. Microsoft recently announced future support, whereas Apple’s has yet to say anything at all. As long as there are hold-outs, the standard will still require plugins. The use of plugin-less WebRTC, however, could potentially spur further development, greater functionality, and greater cost savings as the standards gain popularity according to Irwin Lazar, VP and Service Director at Nemertes Research.
WebRTC applications won’t:
- Communicate freely without the help of an Session Border Controller (SBC)—Despite what many people believe, WebRTC audio and video sessions are encrypted—something that cannot be said of the still popular landline telephone call. But, with enterprise firewalls in place, the web clients supporting these conferencing sessions will have to “negotiate” with each other to determine whether or not the level of encryption coming from the alternate party will be supported. Session border controller vendors will be key to helping peer-to-peer communications technologies work with enterprise firewalls.
- Replace whole VoIP/video conferencing infrastructures—while software development around WebRTC applications is increasing, that does not mean that enterprises are or should be jumping to replace current video and audio meeting infrastructures for WebRTC counterparts. WebRTC is not yet mature enough to replace existing technology—and never will be without greater adoption and significantly more development. WebRTC can, however, fill certain gaps that current communications technologies leave open, said Nemertes’ Lazar. WebRTC gives many businesses—especially those with call centers—an opportunity to simplify customer engagement. There could be real possibilities for financial and healthcare organizations to apply WebRTC to: customer meetings, telemedicine, and when improving customer service.
Other Communications Alternatives
All of this to say that while WebRTC can benefit the enterprise, it hasn’t yet. For businesses looking for more immediate ways of streamlining and simplifying business communications, the still-immature WebRTC shouldn’t be too high on your list of solutions, but should be at the forefront of the trends you watch develop during 2015. Applications for the contact center such as ‘click-to-call’ for customer facing e-commerce or service websites may be the most successful initial commercial use of WebRTC and could be avialble through several UC vendors in 2015.
Consultants agree that more widespread enterprise adoption will become more likely if the WebRTC protocol can soon deliver on the promise of very little maintenance and support. Until then though, a Unified Communications and Collaboration Solution would be your best bet in terms of ease-of-use and high return on investment.
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