Real Time Communications Featured Article

New Math for the All Software Real Time Communications World

July 09, 2015

Moving from proprietary systems to WebRTC for voice and video greatly simplifies the cost structure for any type of real time communications (RTC) project.  There are few hidden or associated costs, meaning that migrating from an existing proprietary system delivering voice and video to a WebRTC infrastructure will drastically lower both capital and operational costs.   But some expenses shift from being fixed-rate into a per-use model, especially when developers and businesses tap into third-party WebRTC service providers.

Expenditures for a RTC project can be broken down into five categories: Implementation, training, maintenance, licenses, and transactions.  The discussion below assumes a typical RTC project initially implemented with a proprietary system requiring dedicated servers with the WebRTC-based system taking full advantage of a third-party WebRTC service provider, such as GENBAND's Kandy.

Implementation - Estimating how long it will take a project to move from initial design specifications to production is as much art as science.  That said, WebRTC provides three key advantages to accelerate project implementation and lower cost over proprietary solutions.    First, WebRTC is directly accessible through APIs in any compatible browser.  There's no third-party code or plug-ins that need to be setup and testing becomes a matter of "Make sure it works the same on (Google) Chrome,  (Firefox) Mozilla, and Microsoft Edge" browsers.   Proprietary solutions can take hours and days to setup up, while a WebRTC service is literally available for trial in 5 minutes -- the time it takes to setup a developer's account. 

Creating RTC-enabled apps is faster because everything can be done in HTML 5.  Any web programmer can add voice and video to an existing web page in a matter of minutes by using example code available on the web.  Refinements and testing will take more time, but it is safe to say the actually programming and testing work can happen in days and weeks instead of weeks and months as is typical with a dedicated solution operated in-house.

Finally, businesses aren't stuck with an upfront bill for proprietary solutions and dedicated server time.  WebRTC development can take place in a free "sandbox" account, with costs not billed until the service goes into production.   A proprietary solution is also going to suck up IT staff time for build time.  HTML developers are dramatically cheaper by the hour, so there's a considerable cost savings in terms of initial setup when comparing WebRTC to a dedicated solution.

Training - Implementing a proprietary solution is non-trivial.  One or more staff may have to be trained in a 1 to 3 day course with an associated vendor bill for the training -- maybe free if it is thrown in as a part of a package deal.   WebRTC can be learned "on the fly" through a couple of days of trial and error by an HTML developer or alternatively picked up at a half day or day long training course offered through conferences such as WebRTC Expo.    This probably comes out slightly in favor of WebRTC because there are a number of conference options available for training and learning more about how it is being put to use.  Vendors tend to charge more for their own product events.


Maintenance - Buying a support contract is pretty much mandatory for a proprietary solution in order to get email and phone support along with regular software updates.  Maintenance costs for WebRTC are a bit more opaque.  Questions are typically fielded on a WebRTC service provider website, with FAQs and group discussions online.   Like in the proprietary world, money talks: If you are paying money for WebRTC services, you should get a faster response.  Faster responses could (will) occur depending on the amount of money you are spending with the service provider.

Licenses - Since WebRTC is open source, there's no charge. A proprietary RTC solution typically requires dedicated hardware, but vendors are moving towards cloud solutions.  In the dedicated solution vs. WebRTC service, clearly, the clear winner is WebRTC with a cost of zero.

Transactions - A proprietary on-site solution won't typically have a cost per transaction, but you have numerous upfront costs to get to that point.  WebRTC service provider costs are a bit more complicated, with all charges falling into operational expenses.  Service providers can charge on a flat rate, per user or per use of the WebAPI API call to their server, with volume driving down the cost per use.  A per user per month price might start at $2 to $4 per month, depending on what services are involved/bundled in.  Per-use charges for a WebRTC API call can start at fractions of a penny and go down to some multiple of tenths of a cent in volume.

When you add everything up, WebRTC as a service is a much more cost-effective option than a proprietary solution.  There's little to no upfront costs for licensing and installation and no bill for annual maintenance.  About the only complexity to pricing out WebRTC is in figuring out what cost model and the frequency of use, since the costs shift to a operational expense that goes down in volume on a per user/per use basis.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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