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WebRTC is certainly a current hot topic for discussion in any video conferencing related conversation. It seems to promise the nirvana of video conferencing to any browser, with no additional software to be downloaded and installed. In this post and in the video below, I will offer some detail about what WebRTC is, where it stands from a development perspective, why it might be disruptive and what impact this might have for companies such as Polycom.



What is WebRTC?


WebRTC (stands for Web Real Time Communications) is a definition being drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to easily enable peer-to-peer applications for voice calling, video chat, and point-to-point file sharing. This will make it easy for real time communications to be embedded in a web-browser based application. These applications can be developed using standard environments such as JavaScript APIs and HTML5 and the application runs directly in the browser - no need for download and installation of plug-ins or other dedicated software. There has been significant contribution and push from Google, Mozilla and a plethora of browser application developers to support WebRTC. Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers already support WebRTC. However there are still some ongoing debates as to how elements such as video encoding should be done - so WebRTC should be seen as an evolving set of specifications.


Why could it be important, even disruptive?


Several factors make the technology very important, not just for Polycom, but for the industry in general: the free, open source nature of the project along with the ease of development lowers the entry barrier for millions of web developers to easily create applications providing voice calling, video chatting and file sharing capabilities. The browsers used by more than 2B global users across many different devices will natively support these capabilities - hence adoption of real-time communications is poised to increase. 


This ease of development will also allow application developers to focus on the business logic of their application and easily integrate real time communications into the workflow where there is true value that can be gained. This should drive higher adoption of collaboration in general and be a key enabler of communication enabled business processes.  An example of such business workflow integration could be the use of WebRTC to provide video based outreach from a business to key clients for improved customer support.


Polycom has been at the forefront of enabling standards based video collaboration in a web browser with our RealPresence CloudAXIS solution. This currently enables a standard SIP video environment within a browser.  Integration of WebRTC to the RealPresence CloudAXIS solution would be a natural evolution of the environment, as it would then remove the need for a one-time plug installation if the user connects via a WebRTC compliant browser.


WebRTC sounds an ideal solution for video. Where is the catch?


WebRTC is based on a different architecture to existing traditional video technology. Instead of having a conferencing bridge at the centre of the network to manage all the connections, WebRTC is a mesh-based technology. Each user sends and receives streams from every other user in the call. This creates challenges when scaling up due to complexities of connection and bandwidth inefficiencies.


Also WebRTC is unlikely to thrive and gain mass adoption if it exists only as an island. It is virtually important that WebRTC users are able to connect and collaboration with other video environments such as traditional videoconference rooms, UC solutions such as Microsoft Lync etc. For example in a video based call centre it is much more likely that the agents systems would be on a more traditional video or UC based environment. Therefore the core infrastructure would still need to somehow bridge the gap between protocols and architecture to connect the video call centre agents to WebRTC based consumers.


Where are the opportunities for Polycom and its partners?


With the stated vision “To unleash the power of human collaboration”, Polycom is excited about the opportunity WebRTC creates to enable billions of web users with our enterprise-grade voice, video and content sharing capabilities. In addition, Polycom is uniquely positioned to help customers overcome some of the limitations associated with WebRTC:


As a leader in the video collaboration space, Polycom has a strong track record in and large installed base of server based solutions, which naturally lend well to addressing the performance degradation issues with WebRTC’s mesh architecture. Polycom has already been enabling these same 2B+ Web users, through our CloudAXIS and RealPresence Platform offerings, enriching business applications in the Healthcare and Education verticals by embedding real-time communications and collaboration capabilities. We are excited at the momentum WebRTC can bring to further our vision.


There are multiple opportunities that WebRTC may enable for Polycom based solutions. These include:


  • Extension of our existing RealPresence CloudAXIS capability to support WebRTC connections as well as standard SIP connections
  • Creating multipoint calls that bring together WebRTC and non-WebRTC users and doing it in a more bandwidth efficient manner than WebRTC alone
  • Collaborative calls that allow users to share content and applications dynamically
  • Integration with Recording and Data/Analytics that speed review of recorded meetings based on locating keywords throughout the collaborative session


Polycom is very excited about the potential that WebRTC can unlock for mass adoption of video collaboration. As the standards evolve and implementations start to become mainstream Polycom intends to be at the forefront of WebRTC deployments and ensure easy integration of these environments with existing video collaboration infrastructures.


The on-demand webcast about Polycom's new breakthrough solutions is available for replay. Watch it now
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