How Video Conferencing Vendors Adapt to WebRTC?

18/04/2016

We can do better.

Complicated

In 2012, when I started this blog, I had only 3 WebRTC related posts in mind. One of them was about the room system of the future. While this has never materialized in the 4 years since, things have definitely changed in the video conferencing space.

Let’s see what video conferencing vendors have done about WebRTC so far (vendors are listed in alphabetical order).

Avaya

Avaya’s assets in video conferencing comes from its acquisition of RADVISION.

A quick glance at the current website specs for its video conferencing line of products (mainly SCOPIA) shows a rather sad story. SCOPIA offers the best money can get, assuming we were 4 years after 2012 and WebRTC didn’t exist.

As the website states, you can “Experience crisp, smooth video quality with resolutions up to 1080p/60fps, stellar bandwidth efficiency, and error resiliency with H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) and Scalable Video Coding (SVC).”

Bolded tech words are my own.

Some things to note:

  • 1080p is great, and the “de facto” thing these days – if you have the juice and the bandwidth for it. 60fps is more than 30fps, but I wonder if it is worth the additional effort to get there
  • H.265 is betting the farm on the wrong codec
  • SVC is where we’re headed. Getting one out of 3 main bullet points correct is a good start

Cynicism aside, I have it from good sources that Avaya is working on adding WebRTC support to its gear. Where exactly does it fit in its bigger picture, and why so late is a different story altogether.

What bugs me the most here is that in the last 4 years, any advancement in the SCOPIA video conferencing product line was reliant solely on hardware capabilities. You can’t leapfrog in this way over competitors – especially when something like WebRTC comes into the scene.

It is sad, especially since Avaya does work and promote WebRTC in contact centers already. At least on the press release level.

Cisco

Cisco is a large and confusing company. If you look at its telepresence products, they resemble the ones coming from Avaya. Same highlights about speeds and feeds.

On the other hand, Cisco has thrown its weight behind a new product/service called Cisco Spark.

Cisco Spark is a Slack lookalike with a focus on voice and video communications by connecting to the massive line of products Cisco has in this domain. Cisco Spark uses WebRTC to drive its calling capabilities in browsers. What Spark enables is connectivity from web browsers using WebRTC to Cisco video conferencing products.

Cisco took the approach of using H.264, making it work only on Firefox and in future Chrome versions (unless you run the new Chrome 50 from command line with the necessary parameter to enable H.264).

Cisco has also been heavily investing in acquiring and nurturing its WebRTC chops:

  • Tropo acquisition, to get an API and a developer ecosystem for Spark
  • Acano acquisition, which fits perfectly well in offering native browser access to its existing infrastructure
  • Spark fund, with $150M to entice developers to use its APIs

Cisco has a huge ship to steer away from hardware and it is pouring the money necessary to take it there.

Google Hangouts

WebRTC. Chrome. Hangouts. Google. All connected.

Google invested in WebRTC partly for its Hangouts service.

Today, Hangouts is using WebRTC natively in Chrome and uses a plugin elsewhere – until the specific support it needs is available on other browsers.

Google also introduced its Chromebox, its take on the room system. I am not sure how successful Chromebox is, but is refreshing to see it with all the high end systems out there that don’t know a word in WebRTC. It would have been nicer still if it could use any WebRTC service and not be tied to Hangouts.

The problem with Hangouts is its identity. Is it a consumer product or an enterprise product? This is hurting Hangouts adoption.

Lifesize

Lifesize was a Logitech division. It was focused on selling hardware room systems.

In 2014, Lifesize launched its own cloud service, starting to break from the traditional path of only selling on premise equipment and actually offering a video conferencing service.

In 2015, it introduced its WebRTC support, by enabling browsers to join its service via WebRTC – and connect to any room system while doing so.

2016 started with Lifesize leaving from the Logitech mothership and becoming an independent company.

Microsoft Skype

Skype has done nothing interesting until 2015. At least not when it comes to WebRTC. And then things changed.

Skype for Business, Skype for Web and the Skype SDK were all introduced recently.

Skype for Web started off as a plugin, which now runs natively on Microsoft Edge – the same initial steps Google took with Hangouts.

My own take here:

  • Skype is investing in switching its backend and modernize it to fit something like WebRTC
  • This process is taking too long, and probably isn’t coordinated properly
  • It is coming, and it will give Skype a lot of flexibility in where to go and what to do next

Polycom

Or should I say Mitel?

Polycom added WebRTC support in its launch of RealPresence Web Suite. In traditional enterprise video conferencing fashion, it seems like a gateway that connects the browser to its existing set of products and tools.

At almost the same time, Polycom shed its Israel office, responsible for its MCU. This is telling as to how transformative is WebRTC in this market.

Vidyo

Vidyo had a love-hate relationship with WebRTC throughout the years but has done a lot of work in this space:

2016? Two things already happened this year with WebRTC:

  1. VP9 is now in Chrome and Firefox for WebRTC, with plans of adding SVC to it. This is something that Google and Vidyo are working on together
  2. Vidyo launched their VCaaS and PaaS cloud offerings

In a way, Vidyo is well positioned with its SVC partnership with Google to offer the best quality service the moment Chrome supports VP9/SVC. They also seem to be the only video conferencing vendor actively working on and with VP9 as well as supporting both VP8 and H.264. Others seem to be happy with H.264/VP8 or running after H.265 at the moment.

The New Entrants

There are also some new entrants into this field. Ones that started at the time WebRTC came to being or later. The ones I am interested in here are those that connect to enterprise video conferencing systems.

These include Unify, Highfive, Pexip, Videxio and many others.

What defines them is their reliance on the cloud, and in many cases the use of WebRTC.

They also don’t “do” room systems. They are connecting to existing ones from other vendors, focusing on building the backend – and yes – offering software connectivity through browsers, plugins and applications.

My room system dreams

I’ll have to wait for my WebRTC room system for a few more years.

Until then, it is good to see progress.

Responses

Laurence Chandler says:
April 18, 2016

Interesting piece here Tsahi.
Most notably, is your dream of the room system. Is this something in which employee A would have X amount of virtual rooms which he manages. Employee A then simply manages the X amount of room for people to come and go?

Reply
    Tsahi Levent-Levi says:
    May 17, 2016

    Laurence,

    I’d say that I don’t care about that part as it is application logic. In my dream room system, the room system will follow whatever URL or app used at that point in time to provide whatever specific application logic is necessary.

    Reply
Yoichiro says:
May 17, 2016

What would you say about CafeX’s approach by “CHIME”?

http://goo.gl/cjC9NE

Reply
    Tsahi Levent-Levi says:
    May 17, 2016

    Yoichiro,

    I just don’t know. I have read about it and have been briefed about it, but have never seen it in action. My gut feeling tells me that while there’s smarts in the solution, it probably fit only a very narrow market niche.

    Reply

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