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How WebRTC Helps Democratize Enterprise Video


Videoconferencing’s two biggest drawbacks arguably are endpoint costs and a limited amount of other users to connect to. In fact, those two drawbacks are locked in a chicken-and-egg relationship: it’s tough for enterprises to justify rolling out desktop videoconferencing to more than just executives and managers when a lot of the clients, business partners, and suppliers have the same limited deployments.

WebRTC could break that relationship and transform video calling and videoconferencing into something that enterprises can justify for rank-and-file workers, too. Short for “real-time communications,” WebRTC uses technology built into a browser to enable two-way and multi-party video communications. That makes it fundamentally different from browser-based video platforms that require users to download a plug-in first. (For an overview of how it works, see webrtc.org.)

There are at least five reasons why CIOs and IT managers in every size organization—including small businesses—should take a closer look at WebRTC:

· Browser support of WebRTC is large and growing. Chrome, Firefox, and Opera—which add up to about 40 percent of the browser market—already support it. Microsoft is working to add WebRTC to Internet Explorer.

· WebRTC leverages the PCs that enterprises already own, instead of requiring them to shell out hundreds of dollars per employee for a purpose-built desktop videoconferencing endpoint. Those savings are one of the ways that WebRTC democratizes video conferencing by making it something that’s no longer limited to conference rooms and executive suites.

· At least one mobile browser already supports WebRTC. As more browsers follow suit, WebRTC becomes another videoconferencing option for road warriors.

· By eschewing plug-ins, WebRTC is a potential fit for B2C communications, such as customer support, because consumers don’t have to download something before they can start communicating. The last thing that an already frazzled CSR or an already irritated customer should have to do is troubleshoot a plug-in.

· As more browsers add WebRTC support, the technology becomes a way to escape interoperability problems that sometimes still arise with traditional videoconferencing platforms and with unified communications platforms. That helps make B2B video as straightforward as voice, and it dovetails with enterprise video’s steady evolution away from scheduled meetings to ad-hoc interaction.

As with any emerging technology, WebRTC has a few downsides, some of which will diminish over time. One example is that browser vendors are still refining their support of WebRTC, to the point that different browsers currently provide different user experiences. On the plus side, WebRTC is entirely software, so tweaking support is a matter of pushing out updates.

WebRTC won’t eliminate the need for traditional videoconferencing endpoints, infrastructure and services. For example, medium and large organizations will always see value in having at least some room-based systems. WebRTC also currently doesn’t support the kinds of additional collaboration features that some enterprises want, although that functionality could be added by plug-ins.

Since 1998, Tim Kridel has covered the tech and telecom industries for a variety of publications and websites, including AV Technology, Carrier Ethernet News, Digital Innovation Gazette, Pro AV, and InAVate. His coverage includes Carrier Ethernet, mobile apps, speech recognition, digital signage, FTTx, videoconferencing, Wi-Fi, and cellular. He can be reached at tim@timkridel.com.