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Unified Communications, WebRTC

Debunking the WebRTC Myth

By Todd Carothers
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WebRTC has evolved from a buzzword in the telecommunications lexicon to finding its way into deployments. It has fallen short of the hype that surrounded WebRTC from the onset as recently pointed out by Dave Michels.

It has certainly made strides and being used around the world in deployments and various uses cases. However, people need to take a deep breath and realize the hype is gone and reality has set. What we see is the industry has a need for certain technologies and/or products based on service requirements. 

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These requirements will sometimes drive WebRTC technology usage or in some cases products such as what CounterPath has to offer. We often get asked about our thoughts on the impact that WebRTC is having on our business.

And this is an example of some of the misunderstanding around WebRTC. Comparing WebRTC and SIP wrapped technologies is not an accurate and fair exercise. They both have different capabilities catered to different segments of the market. While there is some overlap in their functionalities, the reality is that WebRTC and SIP technologies can complement each other.

WebRTC is a media engine that relies on an API (Application Program Interface) that is built in a web browser and that allows enterprises to embed rich communications into applications and websites without having the need to install a proprietary plug-in or other technology.

SIP technologies, on the other hand, are built on signaling protocols that combine a media engine and have the ability of negotiating media capabilities. The result is a ready-to-go product that works across the majority of IP-based deployments today. No gateways needed and no sacrifice in user experience.

WebRTC can provide certain benefits over other technologies. For example, as a free technology embedded in browsers, WebRTC applications can reduce the barrier of entry when compared to those requiring the implementation of VoIP related services.

Also true is the fact that, as it stands now, WebRTC applications are restrictive in terms of the capabilities that can be offered as a true unified communications solution. Now, the above is not to say WebRTC only lives in a browser or can’t be on mobile… but promise of WebRTC was a zero download RTC experience in a few lines of code.

The New Rules of Office Communications.

What has happened is that many have found themselves resigned to plugin downloads with many lines of code and other network change requirement to leverage WebRTC. So this is why there is a reaction to the statement that free WebRTC threatens SIP-based SDKs (or other SDKs for that matter).

For instance, the number of WebRTC SDKs out there indicates that what the browser alone gives you is just not enough. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that WebRTC still heavily relies on an unattractive, restrictive, and in many cases broken signaling protocol.

As stated before, comparing WebRTC and SIP technologies is like comparing apples and oranges —or— chatting to voice. There are deployments that CounterPath has where there is a mix of WebRTC and Bria. We also see other cases where developers thought that WebRTC equals free telephony SDK.

Then they realized they needed to account for signaling, NAT and other typical “SIP-based” deployments. This has caused additional interest in the CounterPath SDK (and presumably others) given we have everything in a single package to enable a client to communicate on an existing SIP-based network. Our SDK is fully abstracted and the developer does not need to know SIP or Media protocols.

At CounterPath we feel that WebRTC and SIP can address similar use cases but they are not at odds with each other, nor will WebRTC replace SIP for enterprise communications. The technologies can in fact be complimentary as pointed above.

However, the decision about choosing one technology over the other is one that requires careful consideration. When analyzing the pros and cons, one must keep in mind factors like support and control. Are you comfortable deploying WebRTC, where you cannot force Google or Mozilla to fix a bug for you?

While WebRTC may be easier and quicker to set up than a SIP-based technology, the more robust nature of a SDK provides users with several benefits:

  • Better support for OS-level events like push, backgrounding, network connection changes (e.g. WiFi to cell data), and audio/video device management (e.g. HID).
  • Our unique approach to programming language wrappers, enabling us to offer our SDK for Java, C++, ObjC.
  • Our ability to customize what we offer (modularity of our SDK).
  • Our ability to do custom development (e.g. making it work on the Teradici platform).

At the end of the day, regardless if they are WebRTC or SIP based, the systems that will prevail in the market are those who find a way to provide customers with a true unified communications experience. The solution that offers high-quality, reliable communications through voice, messaging, presence, and video across platforms, networks, and devices will become the true champion in the UC race.

At CounterPath, we are proud of the plethora of unified communications solutions that can address the needs of any type of customer. But we are by no means complacent. We are working hard and we are extremely excited about what is in store for us.

Todd Carothers

About Todd Carothers

Todd Carothers is the Executive Vice President of Marketing and Products at CounterPath and oversees Product Management and Marketing initiatives. Growing up in Silicon Valley and having witnessed the technical marvels coming out of Xerox PARC (where his dad was a patent attorney) Todd developed a deep passion for the high-tech industry. With a particular interest in Internet and mobile applications, Todd eventually found himself within the massive Telecommunications sector and companies that were on the leading edge of new services that added significant value to operators worldwide.

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