Does Google’s Support of RCS Changes Anything for WebRTC?

February 29, 2016


Now that we got that one out of the way, lets see why the recent announcement from Google and the GSMA isn’t relevant to WebRTC.

Winding road

On February 22, the GSMA issued a press release titled Global Operators, Google and the GSMA Align Behind Adoption of Rich Communications Services. The subheading sums up the message:

Operators align on universal RCS profile; Google to provide RCS messaging client in Android

I was asked if this kills WebRTC – and the efforts of companies invested in WebRTC already.

There are two ways to view these questions:

  1. People don’t understand what WebRTC (or RCS) is
  2. People are just afraid of Google deciding on a whim to close WebRTC as just another experiment (think Google Reader, Wave, Buzz and a lot of other technologies and services in the Google graveyard)

Nothing really changed

I’ve written about the Google’s acquisition of Jibe. Nothing changed since then. I then assumed that Telcos will accept this and adopt it.

The recent press release shows that that has happened – at least by the GSMA. Time will tell which of the carriers will join this initiative.

I am not sure it will save RCS, but as I still believe it is the only alternative that brings RCS any future.

How is that different than WebRTC?

When I think about RCS, I think signaling, messaging and federation. It is about serving all people with a mobile device.

When I think about WebRTC, I think about media processing, business enablement. business processes and customizaton.

RCS isn’t about to win back the world in storm. It won’t beat WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger or WeChat or any of these other players any time soon. And if it does, it won’t be useful for most use cases I’ve seen with WebRTC anyway.

While both RCS and WebRTC can now be said to be promoted by Google, they aren’t serving the same needs in Google.

Will Google stop supporting WebRTC?

I don’t think that’s a possibility in the foreseeable future. How much investment will it put on WebRTC is another topic.

WebRTC is now part of HTML5. It is implemented by Google, Mozilla and Microsoft (don’t start with me on ORTC here please). Rumors abound about Apple, but I don’t really care at this point.

Google dropping WebRTC means back to plugin realm for things like Google Hangouts. And for things like RCS.

When you want to implement an RCS client on a browser, and initiative a voice call through it. From inside the browser. What are you going to use for it? Flash?

Google needs to continue its investment in WebRTC as long as it feels it needs Hangouts as part of its strategy. Messaging is  important to Google – check out their investments and acquisitions around messaging vendors. To that end, it can’t just drop WebRTC.

If, on the other hand, WebRTC gets to a point where it is good enough for Google, its investment in it may change. Until all browsers support WebRTC reasonably – there’s no threat of this happening.

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  1. WebRTC in Chrome is going to stay. Now that does not automatically imply that will continue to be maintained in the current way. Chrome has used a custom version in the past, that can happen again. Happened before when it was still called libjingle.

  2. I think the success of webrtc will depend on the adoption by Apple. To many use cases fail because webrtc cannot be used on iosor osx, thus not reaching a large percentage of any target group.

    My talk on the symbiosys of webrtc and RCS is still valid. i stated that RCS is for mobile and webrtc for desktops/laptops. this is because of the forma factor of the device and of possibilities of integration wit native functions.

    That symbiosys is hardly explored by telco’s because they are different domains and possibly P&L’s.

    1. Richard,

      Thanks for the comment. We have different worldviews on what WebRTC is. To me, it works just as well on mobile inside apps – no browser required. This includes iOS as well.
      In that regard, doing a video call on Facebook Messenger (which uses WebRTC) is probably better than RCS today – the deployment is much larger with a lot more use – and it is free on top of it all.

      RCS today is still a nice idea that never got to the market. You can say it depends on the adoption of carriers and handset manufacturers, and both seem quite reluctant to do anything about it that will move the needle.

      For the most part, for me WebRTC is already a success that is independent on future events.

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