WebRTC: What’s the buzz?

This post was last updated on 20th September 2016.

Innovation is in the air! It's called WebRTC and I am keen to tell you about it now, so you have a chance to jump on it before everyone else does.

I have spoken to the techpreneurs and video whizzes at Talkative, a software start-up borne out of Alacrity Foundation`s business incubator programme, to find out more about the buzz behind WebRTC technology, its implications and value for contact centres. In other words: Exciting stuff! According to Talkative Director, Felix Winstone the kind of ‘stuff’ that has the potential to revolutionise the communications industry. 

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What is WebRTC?

WebRTC stands for Web Real Time Communication and is a transformative piece of technology that allows (as you may have guessed from the name) real time communication 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. It 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.

With online collaboration becoming increasingly widespread, it is a real time-saver, a ‘hassle-remover’ that allows increased productivity and access. People can co-browse and share data with their colleagues, customers and partners whilst they are browsing websites.

Convenience and user experience is far greater for everyone because you don’t have to leave the context of an application or website in order to begin communicating. One click is all it takes, with no need for a complicated log-in feature.

Any examples?

AT&T, Cisco, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all using WebRTC. American Express’s high net worth clients use an app where they can video call an agent at any time and co-browse their investment portfolio. Firefox Hello lets friends co-browse and video call each other during browsing sessions.

A creative use case is the quirky iPad-based telepresence robot double from Double Robotics, which uses WebRTC-based live audio and video communications and allows a much deeper level of interaction with remote team members as the video caller drives the telepresence robot with the video call aboard around the remote office.

It just goes to show that we can expect a lot more to come in terms of leveraging WebRTC to collaborate, service customers and connect with people the world over in real time.

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

– Brendan Eich, Mozilla CTO & Inventor of JavaScript

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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 rehash 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 sessions, with no need to leave.

Importantly, WebRTC offers advantages beyond video and audio. Companies can now offer collaboration tools such as co-browsing and file sharing to their customers. To reiterate, this is all achieved in one seamless session without any pop-ups, 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 co-browsing in a single session is obviously a huge plus in a world where convenience is a priority. Being able to consistently provide such swift, seamless service that leads to first-contact resolution for the customer can only mean that an organisation’s customer experience has further improved.

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 needed. 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 to equip browsers, mobile apps and IoT devices with RTC capabilities via simple APIs. It is currently 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 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, too.

 

Are there any drawbacks?

WebRTC works natively on Chrome, Firefox and Opera. Safari and IE do not currently support WebRTC but we know how quickly things can change in this space. Some solutions offer IE/Safari compatible plugins for services that require WebRTC. However, if you want video/VoIP/co-browsing, a separate application or plugin would be required anyway.

Microsoft Edge uses some elements of WebRTC and is likely to fully embrace it soon. Apple is keeping characteristically poker-faced with respect to their adoption of WebRTC in Safari, although this says more about Apple’s secrecy than giving any inclination as to when they will adopt WebRTC. Then again, WebRTC works in native apps on iOS and android, partially negating this issue.

The industry could also benefit from consensus on video codecs, however some providers offer transcoding between VP8 and H264 and vice versa.

 

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 such, it holds the potential to revolutionise the way in which we communicate.

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 businesses 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 communication is proliferate. As VoIP calling and OTT apps increase in popularity, phone numbers are becoming less and less relevant. Perhaps contact centre calls in the future will be solely through WebRTC-powered digital contact points.

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

Talkative is a Newport-based technology start-up, developing real time communications software for mobile/tablet applications and desktop browsers that draws together voice, video, co-browsing and document sharing capabilities. http://gettalkative.uk/

To see how you can integrate web real-time communications apps in your contact centre, you should absolutely get in touch or join us at one of our technology seminars where we`ll show you on our demo platform! You'll find all seminar dates on our blog, "Where to meet Britannic Technologies"!

 

Jonathan Sharp

Jonathan Sharp is a communications visionary and established technology business leader with 20 years’ proven excellence in driving business innovation and transformation. Sales & Marketing Director at Britannic Technologies, he puts enthusiasm into technology adoption, helping businesses to connect with their customers and staff in the most efficient and intuitive ways.

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