WebRTC Islands are our Future

15/11/2012

WebRTC brings an islands paradigm as the way forward in VoIP communications.

You can look at this post as an updated view of an earlier fragmentation post I wrote.

To all those who care about interoperability, federation, global dialing schemes – it isn’t going to happen this time around.

I’ve been working for over a decade with SIP and H.323 – developing interoperable SDK solutions for the rest of the industry. At the end of the day, none of it mattered:

  • We ended up as an industry with single vendor deployments for enterprises
  • Interoperability was only skin-deep. The moment you wanted to do something real (security, collaboration, video), it just didn’t work
  • Extending communication beyond the boundaries of the organization was impossible without PSTN

To me this seems awfully close to what you can achieve with WebRTC with two minor differences:

  1. WebRTC takes that for granted and makes a real statement of it: there is no signaling – do whatever it is you feel like
  2. It provides a common API with a common delivery platform (the browser)

The end result? Islands is the way moving forward in VoIP communications. At least for now. And if you like interoperability and federation so much, you can look at it as a pendulum swing, shifting from one extreme to the next with the progress of technology.

We’ve worked for 100 years to gain the ubiquity of PSTN. We can dial anyone we want with a number and reach him. From anywhere. SMS is usually viewed as a success due to this same ubiquity: you get the same service running for any person around the globe and the network effect is going to take care of itself, making sure it gets used and adopted.

But is that really true? OTT players have come out with their walled gardens of instant messaging solutions: BBM, WhatsApp and iMessage to name a few, and now it is said that SMS is dying due to instant messaging solutions: non interoperable, un-federated, closed-source, single vendor services.

The graph above shows the prediction of SMS versus OTT instant messaging in coming years. While SMS is still growing slowly (at least in the predictions), it is no match to the explosion of OTT solutions (from a presentation I gave at the Paris WebRTC Conference).

If you ask me, WebRTC is going to do the same to telephony – not only voice and PSTN, but also VoIP and video conferencing. The world is going to become a large number of islands, but at the same time – people aren’t going to care at all. You want to join a meetings? Just head over to the URL, open that calendar invitation, browse the site, look up the person in that social network or open an app.

There will be no need to share the same network with an app and a user ID – you just… join and connect. No installation, no registration, no hassle.

I guess you are just as happy to buy from Amazon as you are to buy from other online retailers – you are more interested in the buying experience than you are about these guys standardizing around a single platform and taking care of federating it with a single shopping cart. So why won’t you be happy to just connect with someone on his own terms, where he can be reached?

Islands is our future of communications. At least until the pendulum swings again.

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