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WebRTC close to tipping point as Cisco, Microsoft announce products

Matt Weinberger | Nov. 24, 2014
WebRTC has been in the works since Google released its project back in mid-2011.

You may notice one major browser completely missing there: Apple has been watching the WebRTC project very closely, says Cisco Engineering Fellow and co-chair of the IETF RTCWeb working group that's helping to define the WebRTC standard, but it has yet to actually commit a line of code or integrate it anywhere -- at least that anybody knows, given Apple's usual veneer of secrecy.

Getting all of those vendors on the same page is itself a struggle, Jennings says. The IETF and the W3C are in sync as far as releasing a truly open solution, but opinions vary on how to get there. One major source of internal drama is over which video codecs to support: It's pretty well agreed-upon that H.264 and VP8 both provide suitable performance, but there are licensing issues to address, since they're both technically proprietary. Cisco has picked its side by releasing of a version of H.264 that's licensed through the company, taking all the royalty costs upon itself and opening the door for developers to build without having to worry about cutting anybody a check. 

But the opportunity for WebRTC is tremendous, Jennings says. For the first time ever, implementing video and audio in a web app no longer takes expertise in, well, video and audio. Putting WebRTC into a web app just takes some JavaScript know-how. 

"You can have a fairly small team that's not experts," Jennings says. 

Moreover, just like any other cloud app, updating a WebRTC app is a matter of refreshing the page. Where before you'd have to juggle software updates, incompatibilities, patch levels, and so on, WebRTC has the potential to work on any device, no matter the form factor or screen size. And we've really only scratched the surface, Jennings says. Once it's that easy to put video and audio into things just by code, the possibilities are limitless: Picture online games that stream video content from your friends while you play, all inside the game. 

The challenges are two-fold: Just in terms of marketshare, Jennings says, half of the browsers out there don't support the full potential of WebRTC, and so it's a matter of putting pressure to get those updates out there. The other challenge is developer outreach: Now that WebRTC is nearing 1.0, the time is ripe for developers who are interested in the technology to really dig in and help define the path forward, but so many are choosing to keep working on their proprietary plugins and keep the cycle of endless updates, low performance and system dependencies going. 

Other areas of focus are in video quality and resilience, but Jennings is confident that those are a solvable problem that the project is going to keep hammering away at. It's just a matter of time -- just like it's a matter of time before Microsoft and Cisco actually release their WebRTC projects to the world. 

"The standard's far  from done, but it's coming together," Jennings says. 


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