When I started preparing my keynote presentation for WebRTC Conference and Expo V in November, there was one central message I hoped to get across: WebRTC is developing along a normal evolutionary track and it’s up to us to continue to move the technology forward from hype to reality.

I’ve been involved with WebRTC since the beginning and we all know there was a considerable amount of enthusiasm at the start. But this year, some of that excitement started to wane. And that’s probably because WebRTC is no longer new; it’s no longer the shiny object. People understand what it is, but we still have a ways to go to realize the full potential of the technology.

Last year, Cisco predicted that WebRTC would be among the top technologies  for 2014, a calculation that was supported by ABI Research’s forecast of 4.7 billion mobile WebRTC devices by 2018. The future seems so bright for WebRTC and, yet, as an industry, we are still trending down from the peak of inflated expectations. There’s a lot of hard work we have to do to keep the technology going, but if you think about it, it’s not unlike what happened with VoIP.

During the WebRTC Conference and Expo, I argued that the WebRTC movement has several distinct parallels to VoIP. Back in the onset of the VoIP era, we didn’t think that VoIP would start moving ahead at warp speed. But it did. So let’s take a look at the similarities:

  • Seminal Events: During the advent of VoIP, people were calling it a seminal event, or a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Now they are saying the same thing about WebRTC. Well, if that’s true, then this is my fifth once-in-a-lifetime event with telecom: 1) mobile, 2) VoIP, 3) WebRTC, 4) NFV and 5) SDN. Just as VoIP wasn’t the seminal event everyone thought it would be, WebRTC isn’t either—unless I’m a cat with nine more lives as I go through my career.
  • Architecture Scrambling: There’s always architecture scrambling in the beginning. When people create solutions from a new technology, they are building something on top of something else and you might have some inefficiency there. There clearly was a lot of that in the beginning of VoIP and there is some of that going on now with WebRTC.
  • Different Stages of Deployment: In the beginning, we go through lots of stages of deployment.  Sometimes it’s like riding a roller coaster. Some days the use case might work perfectly and then the next day there is another type of use case that doesn’t work that well—this is typical while the various use cases are being worked out. There’s also a lot of proof of concept going on, trials and errors. This is the natural progression when any technology moves from hype to reality.
  • The Hype Cycle: Every new technology has a hype curve. We hear things like there are millions of people who are WebRTC-enabled today because they have browsers with the technology built directly into them. But most of these people don’t even know they’re using it when they do—never mind how to spell WebRTC, use it purposely or what it means to them. That’s why there are so many open questions about WebRTC.  

The parallels don’t stop there. WebRTC is experiencing the same challenges VoIP experienced in regards to access, interoperability with existing infrastructures and multimedia services. Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series as I continue to explore how to move from hype to reality.