Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) is an open source solution that was built by Google in 2011. It allows peer-to-peer communication in web browsers and mobile applications through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs). This includes audio, video, and data transfers.
To define broadly, WebRTC reduces barriers in communication. This disruptive technology leverages plugin-free APIs and can be used in both desktop and mobile browsers. Today, WebRTC is supported by almost all major browser vendors. Before the birth of WebRTC, external plugins were needed to achieve the same functions.
In the last decade, WebRTC has seen steady growth in popularity and adoption. By 2016 there were an estimated 2 billion browsers enabled to work with WebRTC. It has also logged over a billion minutes and 500 terabytes of data transmission per week from browser communications.
WebRTC’s main function is to allow access to devices. Users can access the microphone or camera on their phone or laptop, or even the entire screen. They can capture displays and even have that screen shared or recorded remotely.
WebRTC isn’t limited to voice and video. It allows sending and receiving any type of data. It’s also becoming a go-to choice for real-time communications as it is an open source project, is free for commercial or private use, is available in all modern browsers, and since the source code is portable it can be used in mobile apps as well. WebRTC has created a vibrant ecosystem of different vendors and companies, which, in turn, has enabled the creation of new use cases and business models.
In this blog, we will take a holistic view of how WebRTC works, how it powers softphones, and in what ways can businesses benefit from using this open source technology:
- How does WebRTC work?
- VoIP Vs WebRTC powered Softphones
- Why you should use WebRTC Softphones
- How WebRTC enhances SIP capabilities
- Is WebRTC Secure?
- Benefits of WebRTC
- WebRTC & Enterprises: How business can use and benefit from it
How does WebRTC work?
- Media Stream: It acquires audio and video by accessing your device camera and microphone.
- Peer Connection: It communicates audio and video. Allows peer-to-peer audio and video communication. This includes establishing the initial connection, monitoring, and closing the connection.
- Data Channel: It communicates arbitrary data. Enables bidirectional transfers of data between two peers.
These APIs allow browsers to use and send audio, video, and data to other browsers or endpoints.
VoIP Vs WebRTC powered Softphones
You can have VoIP without WebRTC, but you cannot have WebRTC without VoIP, as WebRTC is an evolution of VoIP.
Questions have been raised in the telecommunication industry whether WebRTC is compatible with or runs against VoIP? Are they friends or foes? Can the two systems coexist, do they overlap, and how do organizations benefit from them?
VoIP has been in the telecom arena for a while and has grown to become a formidable communication replacement. Many businesses now rely on the cloud power of business VoIP to take care of their business communications.
So where does WebRTC fit into this? The short answer is that the two work well together. With the addition of WebRTC, VoIP not only thrives but gets a boost as well. The WebRTC standard makes VoIP more robust, user friendly, and flexible. We now commonly find VoIP coming directly onto websites. It also has started popping up in mobile apps to allow for simpler, powerful, and accessible unified communication platforms.
WebRTC can be considered an extension of VoIP that brings the potential of making phone and video calls, chats, and Peer 2 Peer file transfers directly to the web browser or mobile app. WebRTC allows for more widespread adoption of VoIP, acting as an extension for VoIP into new platforms.
Why you should use WebRTC Softphones
VoIP softphones are emerging as the fastest way for organizations to start making and receiving calls. You can download apps made by vendors, or even third-party ones that work with your VoIP Solution. However, not all softphones are the same. Some of these are free of cost, some are payment-based, while others may not be compatible with all the features offered by your service provider.
For instance, some vendors provide VoIP softphones only for a few platforms like Windows laptops and iOS phones. So if an employee is using a different device, he doesn’t have the software option to use a VoIP softphone.
VoIP softphones that are based on WebRTC are an ideal solution for businesses as they require no plugins, frameworks, or applications, are entirely peer to peer, and clock the highest performance and lowest latency. What are the other reasons that make WebRTC based softphones the most go-to option?
- With web-based calling, the hardware or operating system is not of importance. The solution works on any WebRTC-supported browser.
- Organizations don’t have to worry about updates. Most companies apply security patches to operating systems and software applications like web browsers by default.
- WebRTC based calling has benefits over hardware VoIP devices as well. Businesses don’t have to buy separate equipment for calls. Most employees already have laptops, desktops or mobile devices with a browser. In that case, they don’t require physical equipment at all. This eliminates the costs associated with VoIP calling and lower CapEx and OpEx. You don’t have to plug phones into the network, provision them for VoIP or fix them when something malfunctions.
- Secure or HTTPS WebSocket calling reduces security risks for enterprises. Every new piece of hardware or software application that you bring into your business poses a security risk, as it can be an avenue for hackers to exploit. However, no modern enterprise can do business today without using a web browser. And if you can make calls using the same browser, you close several security loopholes.
How WebRTC enhances SIP capabilities
Though WebRTC and SIP don’t need each other to function, connecting them together can help organizations extend their communication possibilities in a big way. The most significant benefits of integrating WebRTC to SIP include a more seamless user experience with one click audio contextual communication and a provision to receive inbound calls over the Internet without crossing the PSTN. This way, web users can connect with legacy PBX equipment with a single well-defined protocol.
Another positive outcome of using SIP and WebRTC instead of PSTN is the HD audio quality. It also results in improved audio transmission reliability by using codecs that are included in WebRTC, like Opus, which is a better fit to be used over the public internet. This codec is well integrated in PBX like FreeSWITCH, Asterisk, and almost all modern softphones.
As the adoption of WebRTC grows, it will result in VoIP and SIP becoming more robust, user friendly, and flexible. Organizations that leverage deeper customizations of WebRTC can offer greater web browsing experiences to their customers and deliver better communication tools as well. As the value of personalized communications and platforms grows among modern-day users, innovative tools that enable simple, direct, and customized communications will become a key factor in gaining an edge over the competition.
Is WebRTC Secure?
While WebRTC offers new and innovative value propositions like in-browser audio, video, and data communication without plugins, it also raises important security questions. Is the technology secure to use? What must developers implement to ensure seamless security while using WebRTC?
- WebRTC requires explicit permission from the user before it can allow the use of their microphone and cameras.
- WebRTC ensures complete and always-on end-to-end encryption. Also, it provides security for both voice and video as it uses the Secure RTP (SRTP) protocol for encryption and authentication.
- WebRTC does not need any software plugins. Therefore, it provides the security benefits of avoiding downloading software platforms like Flash.
- WebRTC enables an organization’s employees to work from a single communications device, be it BYOD or tablets. This opens up new ways of getting maximum benefits from a web browser. As WebRTC is supported by the security benefits of TLS (Transport Layer Security), it makes the use of BYOD safe from a security standpoint.
Benefits of WebRTC
It is easy to understand the hype around WebRTC when one looks at the advantages it delivers to both users and developers. Be it the fact that WebRTC is open source, to its low latency and interoperability, makes it an attractive technology option:
- Low latency delivery and networking: At sub-500-millisecond glass-to-glass latency, WebRTC is the fastest way to transport video across the internet. A video call API with a WebRTC integration enables users to share data directly to a device or application without getting into the series of servers.
- Platform and device independence: WebRTC is supported by all major browsers and devices. This makes the technology easy to integrate into a range of apps without needing any dedicated infrastructure. Any WebRTC-enabled browser that uses any operating system and web services application can create a voice or video connection with another WebRTC device or media server. The browser operating system is not relevant.
- It’s an open source technology: WebRTC draws huge benefits from having thousands of software developers working on it in tandem, standardizing conferencing protocols, and making interoperability less of a concern.
- Adapts to any network condition: WebRTC makes reliable publishing over poor network conditions possible because it supports ‘simulcasting’. With WebRTC simulcasting, a user can generate multiple streams at varying bitrates and quality, so that poor network conditions don’t obstruct video contribution.
- Screen sharing: WebRTC video chat applications enable the sharing of a screen remotely with another device or user who has appropriate access.
- Seamless multi-user video conferencing: WebRTC signaling servers enable organizations to make real-time and smooth multi-party video and voice calls globally. WebRTC video and voice calls require minimal media stream to connect users in multi-party video calls.
- Easy collaboration: The old process when you had to sign in for an account, download the platform and install several platforms to connect with another user is gone. WebRTC text chat makes it convenient and simple to collaborate.
- Real-time services for live communication: WebRTC can integrate with any application to experience a live conversation across sectors. The WebRTC infrastructure and video chat SDK creates a direct route to make live conversation possible and provide real-time communication services, whatever the industry.
- Interoperability with VoIP and video: This could easily be the biggest benefit of WebRTC. It provides interoperability with existing voice and video systems. These include devices that use SIP, Jingle, XMPP, etc.
- Secure voice and video calls: WebRTC provides always-on voice and video encryption. It uses the Secure RTP protocol (SRTP) for encryption and authentication, for both voice calls and video. This is hugely advantageous over WiFi networks as it prevents eavesdropping and recording of calls.
WebRTC & Enterprises: How businesses can use it
WebRTC is already widely accepted and used in office communications and its growth trajectory is going further up. Let’s look at some industries where WebRTC plays a key role:
#1. Contact Centers
For contact centers, WebRTC opens up huge possibilities for communicating with customers. Most major web browsers support WebRTC, which means contact centers can offer customers more contact channels that do not require downloads.
With WebRTC, customers can call a company using their website. This is a viable option as they don’t need to leave the company’s web page to get in touch with them. It also provides the contact center with critical data on the customer journey.
Contact centers can directly go through their website to have live video calls with customers, eliminating the need for downloads or plugins. Also, since WebRTC allows sharing data, video, and audio, contact centers can use it to offer support to customers.
WebRTC enables online messaging, or live chats. This creates a space for real-time communication through a website. Customers send a message and agents can reply instantly. As WebRTC can be embedded in both mobile apps as well as browsers, contact centers can also offer live chat from mobile devices.
#2. Business Communications
From fixed lines to mobile networks, circuit-switched systems to VoIP, telephony has taken huge steps in the last few years. WebRTC is currently the biggest driver behind telecom innovation, as IoT and browser communications are set to drive future telecom growth.
A few seconds of delay is immediately noticeable when engaging in a video conference. With WebRTC, users don’t have to download bulky plug-ins and apps or deal with a codec that can’t facilitate high-level data streams. Now, your conference calls – be it audio or video – can proceed smoothly.
File sharing is a major feature of WebRTC. Recording, sharing, and hosting, files are in expansion mode today. Creating and hosting videos on your website helps promote your brand and build relationships with consumers.
What if you could click on an ad and immediately be connected with the company rather than waiting for the web page to open, scrolling and finding things out for yourself, and then hunting for a phone number to contact? WebRTC changes the way people interact with ads and companies.
Healthcare providers and startups are jumping onto the WebRTC bandwagon. If you need to see a specialist anywhere in the world, WebRTC video streaming means your feed is less likely to cut and is more secure than if you used a plugin. WebRTC is making medical innovation accessible to all. Location or mobility will no longer come in the way of a patient’s ability to receive healthcare.
WebRTC was initially used by social apps like Facebook Messenger, Discord, and Houseparty. Now it is a part of the smart home devices domain as well – as doorbells stream video to your phone, and remote building security and access use voice and video.
How WebRTC can benefit businesses
WebRTC’s unique features like easy collaboration, low latency delivery, and secured multi-user voice and video calls make it a viable technology option for businesses:
- WebRTC can be easily integrated into an organization’s website. Once that is done, all it takes is a click of a mouse for users to call the business directly, be it for sales, support, or a customer service query. The outcome for an organization is that its service personnel can engage with more customers, faster and get more issues resolved.
- WebRTC can be embedded in a company’s website, mobile apps or on marketing banners that are published on the internet as advertisements. This creates new and additional call-in channels for consumers to reach out to the company.
- WebRTC enables the sharing of relevant data – for instance, customer-specific information – with an organization’s support staff that’s handling a customer query. WebRTC enables organizations to know more about their end users. When a user is surfing a company website, his browsing information can be passed to the agents, along with the incoming call. This reduces the time taken to collate this information during the call.
- WebRTC makes collaboration simpler. With no additional software needed, a company’s staff can attend key meetings online with no obstructions. This enables them to work more efficiently. It also saves money as there is no requirement to buy updated software.
- WebRTC facilitates inviting external parties to web conferences over the internet without the need to install any plugin or application, with or without authenticating the person’s identity. This reduces resistance and helps meetings turn more productive.
- Due to its increased security WebRTC can also be used for information transfer.
WebRTC has emerged as a disruptive and innovative communication solution that is driving the growth of business unified communication. As this free, high-quality technology, that seamlessly enables P2P connections, grows from strength to strength, it is not hard to imagine a day when WebRTC enabled communication will rule voice and video calling, as well as data transfers.