Real Time Communications Featured Article

WebRTC in Webinars is a Shaky Proposition

August 24, 2015

Those following the Web-based real time communications (WebRTC) market already know that there are a host of applications for this system. From conferencing to gaming to just connecting on the go, we've already seen a variety of new tools emerge in this still somewhat new space. But what about the webinar? Is WebRTC going to be the go-to source for offering up information to large amounts of people from one central source? The answer will be a bit more complex than yes or no, but contain elements of both.

WebRTC's greatest capability as we've seen it so far is its ability to make a quick connection in a peer-to-peer level setting. When it's just one person talking to another—and this encompasses a host of use cases like the aforementioned gaming but also things like customer service or click-to-call options—then WebRTC can really shine. But when the numbers start increasing, that's where things can get a bit shaky, and that's what's got more than a few thinking that WebRTC in the webinar setting just wouldn't work so well.

WebRTC can fairly readily adapt to multiple peers, often requiring just a separate peer connection to be made for each person involved. Simple enough, but issues of bandwidth quickly start to crop up as each peer needs a media channel, and a four-peer environment means that each peer is serving three peer connections. While each connection may pull between four and six megabit per second—depending on factors like video resolution involved—that can quickly rise to beyond capability when larger numbers are involved. For a webinar, it's often hoped that large numbers will be involved, and that makes WebRTC in the webinar a shaky proposition.

Naturally, there are workarounds, and this may improve WebRTC's capability to be used as a webinar delivery method. Looking particularly viable is the “media server in the middle” configuration, where everyone involved connects to a server that can offer one gigabit or better channel sizes, making a webinar of 200 people or more a  viable option. Several media server software options are on hand, making this especially worth considering.

Image via Shutterstock

This brings us back to the original question: is WebRTC ready for prime time when it comes to webinars? The answer is essentially presented in a quote from The Simpsons: “Short answer, yes with an if, long answer no with a but.” Yes, WebRTC is ready for handling the demands of the webinar if the proper media configuration is used. The key issue is to address the size of the channel required to give everyone a direct connection, the configuration under which WebRTC does its best work. When there's enough room for everyone to step in and get on the connection, WebRTC will do nicely for webinars.

As bandwidth expands due to the sheer demands of the populace and the ongoing development of tools like fiber access, there may well be less need for intervening servers and the like to make WebRTC a useful webinar tool. But for right now, WebRTC's many uses don't really extend to the webinar, at least not without a little help first.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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