WebRTC is going to change the way we communicate. In a way, it might do to the Telephone what the Telephone did to the Telegraph.
Here’s something that should be apparent if it isn’t yet:
— Tsahi Levent-Levi (@tsahil) June 21, 2012
Every once and a while though, a technology comes along that actually lives up to the hype. In the past few months, we’ve been working with network equipment companies and with network operators to create concepts and working prototypes to help envision how WebRTC will change enterprise and consumer communication. About halfway through our first brainstorming meeting, I had one of those “wow, this changes everything” moments.
A few months ago I have attended Horace Daidu’s Asimconf event. There I learned a lesson in disruption: how it comes to be and what it really means.
In a nutshell, there’s a status quo of usage in a given market, and then a new innovation comes along – be it technology, business, partnership or other – reduces the price or barrier of entry and increases consumption. This kills the old guard and starts a new era for a service. Here’s a graph he used to illustrate it:
Taken from an old report of Policy Analysis (PDF)
The use of the Telegraph shown in the graph dies down and gives place to the telephone call. Some might think that the next wave should be video calls, but it probably isn’t.
There are two main reasons for the disruption that is coming to the telephone call:
- An explosion in the means of communications we now have: SMS, voice calls, instant messaging, social networks, email, etc.: these increases the amount of communications we now use and experience.
- The App Store. We now expect our services on the smartphone to come wrapped as an application. Voice calling is now a feature instead of the main service.
In recent years, we’ve seen companies such as Voxeo and Twilio bringing innovation towards voice calling – with an API platform that enables any developer to build his own imagined phone service. Their systems still rely on the good old telephony network. And this is where WebRTC changes the game: it leaves the traditional telephony network by providing the media component of the call, leaving the signaling an open issue – to be solved by web developers.
There are already a lot of innovative ideas that people have done with WebRTC’s video capabilities: changing browser lighting based on the camera input, face detection and Groucho Marx glasses, gesture controlled pong game, augmented reality, chess with friends, and the list goes on.
While video is interesting and important, I expect to see some real world uses for the voice capabilities of WebRTC – ones that are relatively easy to integrate into today’s systems and improve on them.
Need a few examples?
- Translation related services, where WebRTC is used to send the voice channels
- Call centers that you connect to through the app or the web, without dialing numbers. Here there is no need of an IVR system – just a queuing system on the web server hosting the service
- Siri anyone? How about the next voice interface front end for virtual assistants? Instead of typing and reading text on chat windows on websites, you talk to the virtual assistant online
- Voice recognition as an authentication mechanism to web sites and services
- Integration with Google Docs and other online collaboration tools – talk to the people you interact with – no plugin required
Why are these different than current solutions? They cut the middle man – you now only need a web server, an internet connection and a browser. No telephony line, no numbering scheme. Oh, and you need web developers to implement it – no more voice or telephony experts.
That chart from Policy Analysis? Now replace Telegraph with Telephone, and Telephone with WebRTC, change the scale to thousands, shift the years a bit, and you will get to the next disruption in modern communication: from a telegraph, to the telephone, to the web.
You see, this whole comparison of WebRTC to Skype or other services is all wrong. WebRTC is a technology – not even a platform. What you do with it is what really matters.
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