Microsoft's Skype also provides voice, video and data over the Internet, but requires a separate client that is proprietary, resulting in an island of connectivity among Skype users. WebRTC has the potential to federate this type of communication or to enable each user to connect to multiple islands that are useful to them.
A goal of WebRTC is to enable voice, video and file sharing between browsers without plug-ins, but in the short-term they may become necessary. Near ubiquity is a requirement of maximizing the usefulness of WebRTC, but if Internet Explorer doesn't support it that creates a serious problem. By most estimates IE is at least a strong second among browsers.
As a result, plug-ins may arise that serve the purpose until Microsoft bakes WebRTC into its browser, experts say.
Mobile browsers that support WebRTC are also in the works. Linden says Google focused first on WebRTC in desktop Chrome browsers and that putting it in its mobile browser is "the obvious next step. Mobile is harder."
The technology today is best-effort, but there are provisions to mark traffic for service quality, but there is no guarantee that the network will respect those marks, says Jennings. If WebRTC were used over a corporate network controlled by the company, this problem could be dealt with. "The fear is what happens when applications enable click-to-call that go outside the infrastructure," says Lazar.
Jennings says standards developers are working on including tools in WebRTC that will provide data about how it is performing so existing voice-quality management platforms or individual applications that integrate WebRTC can troubleshoot connections.
The key to quality is fixing issues before they result in packet loss and recovering quickly if there is a problem, says Linden, and these are being worked into the standard as well. "We need to be sure it works and provide statistics. You need to know what's going on."
The technology has issues that need to be solved. Despite policies to the contrary, it is likely workers will use applications that leverage WebRTC while they are connected to the corporate network, Lazar says, just as they use Dropbox today. "I don't see how you can stop it," he says.
One danger is that workers click to join WebRTC sessions without reading the terms that go with using the application. In that way they could lose rights to corporate data that gets shared over such a link, says Hank Levine, a partner the Washington, D.C., law firm Levine, Blaszak, Block and Boothby, which negotiates communication contracts for large corporations. "It's a little bit of a nightmare," he says.
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