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How Far Will Comcast, Cable Go with WebRTC?

May 13, 2015

Last week, Comcast announced Xfinity Share, a service to let Xfinity cable users live stream videos over the Internet from their phones directly to X1-enabled televisions.  The service was built using WebRTC, Comcast's latest move to embrace the latest real time communications (RTC) innovations and the power of software to deliver services. How far will Comcast and the cable industry go with WebRTC in the future?

Comcast boasts that Xfinity share is the first "technology" -- whatever that means -- that brings a robust WebRTC-enabled streaming experience to the television screen.  Presumably it means Comcast is the first cable provider that has deployed WebRTC in a larger scale production environment, with the Xfinity Share software client, the X1 setup box, and backend servers all supporting WebRTC functionality for this and future services.

"We look forward to expanding Xfinity Share to support even richer streaming experiences in the coming months," writes a Comcast spokesperson in the corporate blog. "We’re excited to launch Xfinity Share, but we’re even more excited about the ever-expanding WebRTC functionality we’ll be developing for X1 users in the coming months and years."

via Shutterstock

Comcast has never been shy in trying new things and telegraphing what types of technology it likes, with mixed results.  The company has been a long-time advocate of HD voice, but had troubles merging its veiled promises and vendor demands with a rapidly deployable consumer service. It was the first cable company to roll out Skype over a set top box, another experiment that didn't take off because it required additional hardware.

The two most important parts about Comcast's WebRTC move are that it's the first production-style service rolled out by a Tier 1 provider and the company has more WebRTC to rollout in the pipeline.  AT&T introduced its WebRTC play back at CES in January as an API-style "try before buy" service for developers, but put the onus of building apps and features upon that community.  Comcast clearly is doing more in providing an end-to-end application.

Part two, it's all about the phase "ever-expanding WebRTC functionality we'll be developing... in the coming months and years." Comcast and the rest of the cable community dove into the app world like crazy when mobile caught fire, putting HD voice and other rah-rah goodies on the back burner to embrace apps for extending features to tablets and smartphones. 

WebRTC could be a goldmine for Comcast in at least two areas.  First, it could offer WebRTC as a service (WaaS), similar to what AT&T is doing, opening its servers and functions to third-parties to build apps for consumer and business use, with business probably the better play.  Secondly, WebRTC can be the foundation for any number of business-services, including an enhanced "UC" suite of offerings, as well as supporting "simple" group and larger videoconferencing sessions with WebRTC.

I suspect Comcast will "eat" its own services by rolling WebRTC into a kinder, gentler user support application.  The company knows it needs to do better to establish more personalized contact between its call centers and customers.  WebRTC-based video may be a way to do so.

This week, in Miami, Florida, WebRTC Conference & Expo is sharing knowledge and offering exposure to WebRTC platforms, applications and products needed to improve communication strategies, enhance business processes and save money. Stay in touch with everything happening at the event -- follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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