Real Time Communications Featured Article

WebRTC Hype and Fear

December 04, 2015

Depending on whom you talk to, WebRTC can be the best thing since sliced bread or a tool for chaos and doom.  The truth, as always, is in the middle between enthusiastic advocates, defensive types afraid WebRTC is going to wreck their current way of living overnight, and opportunists wanting to sell services regardless of what the truth may be.  Be patient and don’t believe the extremes on either side.

The major camp hyping WebRTC are those people who are in the “Open source software can fix everything and all telco solutions are wrong.”  Service providers, according to the party line, are slow, clueless, and don’t know what they are doing despite controlling all the underlying hardware and network infrastructure required for all the pretty apps to deliver their features and functions. The checklist of sins inflicted by traditional phone companies upon the world include IMS, Voice over LTE (VoLTE), and RCS, all highly complex and over complicated schemes that aren’t going anywhere.

History has shown that while IMS was continually flogged as being too complex, it has survived the criticism and is now being implemented by carriers transitioning from 2G and 3G networks to 4G LTE networks.  VoLTE, argue the open camp, can simply be replaced by any old peer-to-peer session or over the top (OTT) client, but the reality has been that phone numbers are so heavily embedded into the existing phone system that they serve multiple purposes while assisting in being simple enough to quickly type in using a numeric keypad and not having the headaches of foreign language character sets and having to spell out long names. VoLTE also has a guaranteed quality of service (QoS) component to it at the network level that OTT clients can’t match.

RCS (Rich Communications Services) have taken the slow boat to set standards and show up in real world deployments, as compared to the years and decades OTT offerings have been built and deployed.  However, RCS is like VoLTE – benefitting from the deployment of LTE and offering a “carrier grade” OTT offering for service providers that could end up joining and/or displacing the some of the vast sea of OTT alternatives.  People won’t have to work to convince their family, friends, co-workers, and partner companies to join them on one OTT island or another.  Instead, RCS will provide IM, multi-person chat, voice and video that “just works” and is already pre-installed on their existing mobile phone.

On the other side of the equation, you have the doomsayers, either those who have an established product and feel threatened or just someone looking to bash WebRTC in order to sell more of whatever they have.  Arguments against WebRTC work into the camps of it has security problems, potential for lawsuits due to open source, and that it is still an unfinished work.

Security concerns are overblown. WebRTC has baked in security for communication, using DTLS to transfer real time data either in a peer to peer or client to server model.  Since WebRTC is already incorporated into the browser, there’s no need or potential to download additional add-ins that can bring in additional risks each time there’s a download or need to update an add-in. Audio and video data is encrypted using SRTP, so anyone sniffing packets can’t just grab a media stream and listen or watch communications.

All of the WebRTC code, including the codecs, is open source. If someone was going to sue Google or anyone else for a patent violation, it should have happened by now, since lawyers like to run up fees and patent trolls are looking to extort checks out of any company they think they can make it more expensive to pay than fight in court.  While there may be a lawsuit or two in the future, Google and others will likely work to defined and get any actions dismissed quickly, rather than leave a lingering cloud over code currently being rolled out on Windows 10 and millions of browsers and servers around the world.

There is some truth to WebRTC being a standard in progress.  However, there’s enough fixed agreement and consensus as to what WebRTC should do that even Apple has decided to move forward and incorporate the technology into its software.  And there’s certainly enough work on reliable code and actual applications and products that has demonstrated WebRTC is mature enough for production use in enterprises.  There’s a list of brand name companies using WebRTC today, including IBM, Samsung, and SAP.  Waiting for WebRTC to mature more means companies are losing development time and experience in working with the technology today. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Article comments powered by Disqus

  Subscribe here for RTCW eNews