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Friday, August 2, 2013

Six things you need to know about WebRTC

New standard for browser-based conferencing could shake up enterprise networks

Network World - WebRTC (Real-Time Communication) is a series of designs and guidelines promoted by Google and others through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and MPEG groups to provide a common stack for audio and video communications directly between two browsers.  

It already is a part of the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox and Opera. It will also work with Internet Explorer by using Google’s ChromeFrame plug-in.

WebRTC provides a means of video collaboration without causing concerns about vendor specific matters like gateways, client software versions and licenses and signaling techniques. 

In most cases it will be possible to integrate WebRTC into the vendor’s unified communications architecture. Most vendors are announcing such intentions or at least carefully watching the WebRTC growth. However, what will be the real impact of WebRTC on the enterprise and the enterprise network?  

1. WebRTC could raise security issues.
WebRTC will enable employees to do more ad hoc videoconferencing. This means there will be potential benefits, but some risks. Users won’t need vendor-licensed clients to do desktop video conferencing. So, the participants in the conference may be either inside or outside of the company. One could be an employee of a competitor. The ability of outsiders to probe into companies, by using social engineering to establish calls, will increase. Also, monitoring these calls with sniffer-like tools will raise legal questions about privacy. Currently, monitoring video that includes audio is considered wiretapping in most jurisdictions.
What is WebRTC?

2. WebRTC will increase traffic levels on the enterprise network.
Within unified communication suites, such as Avaya’s Aura and Microsoft’s Lync, knowing someone’s presence tells you if they are available for a call or conference. Assuming they are, a single click establishes the connection. However, if Avaya, Microsoft and others embrace WebRTC, the call could also be video as well as audio. This could  require a 10-fold increase in network bandwidth. This even would be true for calls that are browser to browser.

3. The WebRTC movement will increase the diversity of endpoint types for video conferencing.
Currently, with vendor specific video conferencing, the IT department has some control over which endpoints can do conferences. That’s because they control the license to the software clients sold by the vendor. But with WebRTC, there isn’t a client module. So, the employee has access to conferencing capabilities on any platform that supports a common browser. Currently that only excludes Android devices, but that will certainly change. Now, the employee will be able to conference from the parking lot, grocery store, or home office. While that traffic will be on the network to which the employee is connected, it will also be on the corporate network, if the other party on the call is also an employee.
Within the company, if there is heavy use of wireless, the wireless networks could be severely swamped with this new traffic. Hotels, schools and universities, and retail stores providing cafes immediately come to mind.

4. WebRTC requires IT employees to have more knowledge of a new system, which will increase their workload.
Historically, IT departments have been resistant to new web-friendly technologies such as VoIP and streaming video. And, their concerns have probably been well founded. Technicians must struggle to make the new technologies available, while at the same time, protecting the interests of the company. Now, WebRTC will add SRTP, gateway signaling protocols like SIP and H.323, and security protocols like STUN and ICE as requirements for the network engineer or technician to incorporate.

5. Methods for troubleshooting and managing WebRTC traffic will need to be developed.
Web RTC has new connection establishment techniques and uses SRTP (Secure Real Time Protocol) for transport. To identify the WebRTC traffic, the network engineers will need to build custom filters in Wireshark or find products that recognize SRTP. Once identified, the traffic can be prioritized or separated from other critical business traffic. But don’t expect troubleshooting tools from major manufacturers in the near future. Not one major manufacturer has begun incorporating these capabilities into their current products. Some are hardly aware that WebRTC is under consideration.

New technologies bring about new policies and modified social norms. IT will need to develop transitional use policies for video conferencing. It will be especially important to have policies regarding interruptions, call etiquette, and awareness of individual and company privacy. Most employees are cognizant of sounds around them when making calls. (Some cell phone users in airports seem to be an exception.)  But, will a user be aware of situations or locations that are visible in their surroundings that the other person can see?  

6. WebRTC could make legacy video conferencing equipment obsolete long before you had planned.
If a conference can be created on an ad hoc basis, why should someone schedule a room or telepresence system?  True, browser to browser conferencing won’t begin with groups of participants at each end.  However, slowly that will change.  At the recent Enterprise Connect Conference, several vendors demonstrated multiple endpoints on a single screen.  Soon, with web enabled televisions of much larger sizes and high definition resolution, the duplication of room sized systems will be accomplished.  Even now, with SIP gateways between the RTC devices and telepresence and room systems, we can already see conferences. Some of these are being accomplished through transcoding and cloud services. Vidtel offers such a system.

At this point, it might seem that most of the impact will be detrimental. From the IT department’s perspective, that may be the case. However, from an overall business perspective, there are some authentic benefits. Audio and video conferencing will be far less expensive. Except for gateway devices to interface to legacy equipment, there may be little new expense other than for additional web cams. Call centers, support centers, and help desks will gain the ability to see the users and probably the user’s device or object. That will be much better than clicking on a chat button and typing to communicate with an agent.   

Also, application developers who have worked with WebRTC say that the single-click-for-call that is built into the browser will be relatively easy to integrate into other business applications. Since web APIs have already been developed, the accounts receivable system may have a button to call the owner of an overdue account. The email advertisement may establish a video call with the sales agent. And, don’t be surprised if this is accomplished from your easy chair using your web enabled TV

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