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WebRTC Gets Another Important Convert: Facebook

March 31, 2015

Two and a half years after TMC wrote about how WebRTC is “a gift from heaven” for Facebook. Now, others in the communications arena – including perhaps Facebook itself – are now coming to the same conclusion.

“I have no doubt that if Facebook integrates WebRTC voice and video calling into their Facebook app on mobile devices it would be used more than Skype,” RealTimeCommunications blogged in Dec. 27, 2012. “When you make a voice/video call to a friend or business associate in Facebook, this call activity can show up in your Facebook friends' Newsfeed. This can potentially allow for better intra-company communication. For instance, sales reps can see that a customer service rep just talked with one of their important clients and then inquire if everything was resolved.”

To be clear, Facebook is now leveraging WebRTC to enable Chromebook users to launch video calls on its service without first having to install plugins. Of course, this is a limited application of WebRTC, and one in which both ends of the interaction would have to be using WebRTC-capable browsers.

That said, given Facebook’s ample customer base, the company’s embrace of WebRTC could signal an important turning point for the already noteworthy technology. Once Facebook and other major social networking outfits realize the potential for WebRTC, they could expand it to other offerings, spurring it to catch on in a much bigger way. 

via Shutterstock

“With 1.9 billion active users worldwide, Facebook could spread WebRTC like wildfire,” Dean Manzoori, vice president for unified communications at managed services provider Masergy, wrote in a recent blog.

WebRTC stands for web real-time communication. The technology allows for real-time voice and video interactions from a web browser or other peer node without requiring special client software or requiring a server between the two endpoints. It takes the components of a typical VoIP media engine into a browser or any other peer endpoint with a simple API that a web server can control. That means developers can build real-time communication into web pages, and do so more easily than they could’ve in the past.

“Voice will increasingly be woven into a variety of interactions and interfaces,” Jon Jorgl, president of enterprise at GENBAND, which offers the Kandy platform-as-a-service to enable this kind of thing, comments. “In the future, teams will be able to initiate a voice session with one touch inside a workflow application.”

Kandy is a cloud-based telecom OTT solution from GENBAND that provides real-time communications capabilities for enterprises, services providers, and developers.

Combined with fring, end users can talk, text, and videoconference via peer-to-peer communications over the Internet for a small fee and without using a new phone number.

While Facebook’s WebRTC implementation is certainly noteworthy, this technology already has some significant players as champions. That includes none other than Google, which kicked off the WebRTC movement back in 2011 via its acquisition of GIPS. Google has been the leading advocate of WebRTC ever since, and supports the technology in its Chrome browser.

WebRTC is also supported in the Firefox and Opera browsers, and Microsoft in August finally made public its intention to offer Internet Explorer browser support for WebRTC in its own way – via the Object Real-Time Communications API out of the W3C Object RTC Community Group. That means the only major browser holdout is Apple with Safari.

Another industry giant, Amazon, has also jumped aboard the WebRTC bandwagon. Indeed, Amazon’s Mayday button is no doubt the most high-profile application of WebRTC. It enables Kindle e-reader users to initiate video interactions with live agents with a simple click of a button on their devices.

The beauty of all this is that it allows real-time communications to be more easily integrated into both existing and new applications and websites. As a result, there’s less friction between end users and organizations that want to escalate an online experience to a real-time interaction to get a question answered quickly or get input on other things in which a shopper might be interested, for example. However, customer service, sales, and real-time social networking are just a few examples of the use cases for which WebRTC is a match.

And while many see WebRTC as a boon to over-the-top companies like Facebook, Google, and Linked In, this technology is also being embraced by incumbent voice and video service providers and their suppliers.

Only time will tell how long before WebRTC starts to really replace phone calls. But if projections continue to be accurate, the ‘big switch’ could be right around the corner.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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