WebRTC’s Future – Debates in the IT Market

January 21, 2015
Stass Soldatov

[TrueConf is a Russian enterprise video conferencing vendor. They have a different mindset from the rest of the market simply because of their location. Stass Soldatov, CTO @TrueConf was kind enough to give us his analysis on the challenges (and excuses) he hears in the Russian IT market]

The future of WebRTC is a hot topic in the Russian Internet segment.

Moscow skyline

Experts are divided between optimistic and pessimistic attitudes towards this technology, with majority opinions briefly described in the following manner:

  1. Pessimistic approach: “WebRTC has no future; the technology does not correspond to the market’s expectations, and it will lose its popularity soon.” This opinion has emerged from the fact that there are not enough WebRTC-ready solutions or active users in the IT market.
  2. Optimistic approach: “WebRTC is easy to use; the technology is getting popular among users, does not have any rivals and is actively developing.” The only rival to WebRTC is an extremely dated Flash (by Adobe), which is no longer in development.

TrueConf experts, along with the majority of Western video conferencing vendors, think that WebRTC has a bright future. In this article, we will try to analyze the most common claims against WebTRC and share our own optimistic views regarding its development.

“Not all leaders of the IT industry support WebRTC, thus endangering its further development.”

Despite of its fairly young age, WebRTC technology is being actively developed with the aid of major IP telephony market players. Recently, Microsoft caused concern by developing an alternate technology, CU-RTC-Web, but they have now switched towards the development of ORTC technology, the features of which will be included in version 1.1 of the WebRTC standard according to Google. This gives means that in all likelihood, those two standards will be merged.

As for the other important market player, Apple, there are rumors that WebRTC may be included with a new version of Apple Safari. As the result, the majority of browsers will support WebRTC ‘by default’, and that will result in near-universal support of this standard on client devices.

Polycom and Cisco, world leaders in building hardware MCUs (Multipoint Control Units) are also actively implementing the support of WebRTC into their products: RealPresence CloudAXIS (Polycom), and Jabber Guest (Cisco).

“WebRTC uses the VP8 video codec, which demands transcoding for interoperability with enterprise video conferencing products.”

During group video conferences utilizing MCU or with participants that have different bitrates, transcoding is always necessary. As such, transcoding into VP8 instead of H.264 for WebRTC will not significantly affect the overall load. Moreover, in order to completely eliminate transcoding in such conferences, best practice is to use SVC (Scalable Video Coding). The fact that the VP8 video codec already supports certain versions of SVC makes it possible to connect WebRTC clients to servers with limited computing resources.

TrueConf uses the VP8 video codec in its solutions, and has for a long time. We suggest this particular combination for WebRTC, based on our experience. It is a very interesting option for service providers, since it can significantly lower costs on video conferencing infrastructure.

Some browsers, like Firefox, already support H.264 in addition to VP8, which simplifies integration with other solutions which already support this codec. This allows vendors to boost the development process and the implementation of ready-to-use video conferencing solutions with WebRTC, thus improving use of the technology.

“WebRTC does not live up to expectations, and users cannot utilize the technology at its full potential.”

More than a billion of users of Chrome, Firefox, Opera and other Chromium-based browsers can utilize most of WebRTC’s potential right now. The ability to participate in video conferences by simply clicking a link is desirable for many users. End-to-end full duplex audio and video conferencing has become available for browsers without the installation of special plug-ins or additional software. All that it takes for users to connect is to follow a link and confirm the request to access a camera. Thus, from the enterprise point of view, WebRTC presents the opportunity to connect external users to internal video conferencing sessions without requiring registration in an internal corporate network.

It is worth noting that most often the reason for complaints about WebRTC being inappropriate for end users lies beneath the fact that not all developers are qualified enough or have enough resources to create an enterprise-ready product from the open source code of WebRTC. The technology is fairly new and raw, so there are not yet many developers with an advanced level of expertise. At TrueConf, we do not see this as a reason for pessimism. On the contrary, we think that the question should not be “Will WebRTC technology be popular?”, but “When will it be popular enough, and when we will see the mass production of high-quality WebRTC products?”

“WebRTC is not popular among users.”

According to data collected by Internet Telephony, WebRTC is supported by more than 1 billion user devices at the moment, and is expected to be supported by more than 3.9 billion devices by 2016.

Another thread of discussion is centered on the VP8/VP9 video codecs used in WebRTC that are believed to be less popular than H.264/H.265 used by the majority of MCU vendors. At the first glance this might seem true. But it is worth looking at the situation and taking the most recent data into account.

In June 2014, San Francisco hosted the Kranky Geek WebRTC Show where Google shared very interesting information about the future of VP9. Tsahi Levent-Levi in his article for NoJitter pointed out the most important facts from the Google’s presentation. Firstly, Google plans to implement VP9 with WebRTC by the end of the year; and secondly, about 60% of all the video content on YouTube now uses VP9.

These statistics show that VP9 is already used by end users in real life all over the world. This means that the real competition happens not between popular, yet dated H.264 and VP8, but between the trending H.265 and VP9 standards. It is still hard to tell which one will dominate the market, but since Google has delayed the release of the standard and its choice of an obligatory video codec, we may consider that Google sees VP9 as a real alternative for H.265.

We think that in the nearest future, users will have an option to choose between high-end expensive video conferencing systems with H.265 HD video or using a browser to make VP9 HD video call.

What will the end user choose?

“WebRTC has bad interoperability with other existing standards.”

The majority of protocols included in WebRTC corresponds with or extends stacked SIP (Session Initiation Protocols), such as SDP (Session Description Protocol), RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol), and TURN (Traversal Using Relay NAT). In order to simplify the integration with existing SIP solutions, WebRTC demands support for the G.711 audio codec. This makes the creation of a solution compatible both with WebRTC and SIP much simpler. It is important to understand that WebRTC is not a substitute for SIP: it is an extension for SIP that provides users with more ways to communicate.

“VoLTE has more prospects than WebRTC.”

Frankly, VoLTE is not a competitor to WebRTC: it is a WebRTC extension in LTE. That is why industry players and telcos should better try to unite these technologies instead of arguing about their quality. This could help companies provide superior communication quality, extend their service portfolio, and cut costs. WebRTC allows service providers to extend the range of supported devices (desktops, tablets, phones, TVs), and use it as a platform for ultimate app store and service management.

In Conclusion

To sum up, we can say that disputes around WebRTC are mostly caused by its troubled development process rather than the reasonable limitations of the technology itself. We think that there are no serious boundaries for further development and distribution of WebRTC. This technology is widely supported and is being actively developed. End users and enterprises already see its advantages and value its simplicity of use. In the near future, when the market will feature more high quality, user-ready solutions, the popularity of WebRTC will become an indisputable fact for even the most hardcore skeptics.

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