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I started off 2013 with a blog about WebRTC. A lot happened with WebRTC in 2013, and the final story is yet to be written, so I’ll also make it the focus of my first blog of 2014. We see WebRTC-enabled media servers playing an important role in the evolution of browser-to-browser communications. If you want to do a WebRTC voice or video conference, you’ll need a WebRTC-enabled media server. If you want to record a WebRTC call, you’ll need a WebRTC-enabled media server. If you want to navigate an IVR from a WebRTC endpoint via voice or DTMF tones, you’ll need a WebRTC-enabled media server. You get the point.
I’ve been asked about use cases. “What can we do with WebRTC that we can’t just do now?” I’m sure there are quite a lot of ways to answer that question, even more than we can comprehend right now. And I’m sure in a year or two, some really cool WebRTC apps will emerge, most likely some kind of Web app where voice is a differentiator.
But right now, one of the biggest use cases that falls into the can’t-do-it-now category is one that is actually a can’t-easily-do-it-now example: video conferencing. Yes, you can accomplish video conferencing with expensive equipment (telepresence) or proprietary equipment, but WebRTC will really open the door for quality video conferencing at affordable pricing, using commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment.
We’ve enabled this before, but a special SIP endpoint needed to be obtained. Others do this today, even with COTS equipment, and it is an inhibitor for sure. Additionally, another ingredient in the mix today is that endpoints like mobile phones, laptops and desktop computer screens have cameras. For mobile users, LTE brings speeds to the party that 3G just can’t. The ability to conference someone on LTE, WiFi or landline Internet without needing to download or obtain some special endpoint because it’s all built into the WebRTC browser and endpoint can and should spur this market forward.
Something else that will make a difference is that now we can do video conferencing using just software and a COTS server. We can perform continuous presence video conference mixing using a variety of codecs with COTS servers, and we can easily mix fifteen 720p video conferees on the server, which is important in a WebRTC world where the client isn’t known. In a nutshell, it’s easier now, the technology is capable and the hardware is less expensive. History shows this can fuel market growth.
Business conferencing will benefit. Personal conferencing can benefit. Vertical markets such as the healthcare and financial segments can benefit. The pricing to these target markets, though, has to be right or no one will even try it.
At this point, it’s important to point out that if you read any videoconferencing analyst report, at a high level it will come across really depressing. Revenues declining, TAM declining. But that’s because these expensive systems are on the decline in favor of more economical business systems. With WebRTC and software-based video conferencing using WebRTC endpoints, those systems are going to be replaced, as well. So the reports may continue to be depressing at that level. But no matter how you cut it, the number of end users of these video conferencing systems are on the rise.
The market is ready. The technology is ready. Hopefully, the pricing is right. Be on the lookout for these systems in 2014. I’m sure I’ll be highlighting some cool ones as the year goes on.
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