WebRTC: The New Standard in Video?

Ryan Murphy
June 25, 2019

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is an open-source project that provides web browsers and mobile apps with real-time communication via simple APIs. It allows audio and video communication to work inside a webpage by allowing direct peer-to-peer communication, eliminating the need to install plugins or download native apps.

Using WebRTC, Cloud video providers have an opportunity to provide flawless video meetings without slowing them down. This is a game-changer in a lot of ways.

But first, a little bit of history to set the stage for why this is going to shake up cloud conferencing.

The varying approaches to browser-based cloud video

I’m going to tell this from our own perspective, because the fact of the matter is that we’ve tried ALL of the approaches to browser-based video.

Pragmatic fielded a cloud video solution that optimized the experience for room systems. Your Polycom and Cisco systems. We offered what was basically “infrastructure as a service,” relieving companies of the burden of on-site hosting and maintenance by virtualizing their bridges.

We knew that to be successful, we’d need to include connection options for folks joining from their computers. Eager to get the service off the ground, we created an online portal and interface around Polycom’s Websuite solution.

BUT: It required a plug-in download. It looked bare bones. It did NOT put us at parity with other services. And worst of all, if a first time user was trying to join, they’d be delayed by the process of downloading and installing the bits needed to enter the meeting. Participants would be joining late, if at all, due to a complicated join flow. Not to mention the necessary updates.

So we developed another option – an alternative workflow where users download a soft client which is then launched upon joining a meeting. This was and is the standard for many cloud video providers. And it works. But it still requires a download. New users still need to jump through at least one hoop to join a meeting. It doesn’t feel as easy as you’d expect things to be in this day and age.

And it slows meeting participants down.

Enter: WebRTC

The idea of using WebRTC was enticing from the beginning, but it wasn’t the cure-all one would hope. At least not at first.

In early iterations, video streams were mixed and displayed at the browser level. This led to instability and a lack of control over the look and feel of the video, making it a non-starter for brand-conscious service providers.

But our approach to this has changed. Video transcoding is now done on the video bridging infrastructure itself, and then displayed via WebRTC API. Video call quality and stability are maintained, while allowing for a slick interface to be built around the display in browser. WebRTC also keeps things secure and helps with firewall traversal.

And the best part? No downloads. EVER.

The Future of Browser-Based Video Calls

Let’s talk about the benefits of a no-downloads browser meeting experience.

No slow downloads in low bandwidth

For one, there’s the benefit it provides to those joining meetings in low-bandwidth environments. Even with high-speed connections, having to download something when you’re anxious to get into a meeting is annoying at best. Without high-speed, it means that participants may not be able to join a meeting period due to the long download time. These can be big apps.

And how many people have the time foresight to download and install required software well ahead of a meeting, anyway? It doesn’t work that way. You get an invite that you scan briefly the first time, then again when it’s time to join. I’ve been a participant in meetings on just about every cloud video platform now, and I’ve never been on time when using them for the first time.

It’s so common an issue that the solution is for hosts to simply learn to be patient. Of course a meeting will start late – participants are downloading and installing the software. Many of them will need to track down someone in IT for the admin permissions to install something. We’re talking 15-minute delays. It gets ugly.

WebRTC solves all that. Meetings begin on time. Things are simple. The meeting just works, without anyone freaking out on either end of the call.

No surprise updates

But that’s not all it does: customers also benefit from the fact that the service provider and constantly iterate and improve on the browser-based meeting experience. No updates or patches to download on that front, either. The interface is just slightly tweaked this way or that when you log into a meeting.

WebRTC allows us to maintain call quality while making things simpler. And keeping it secure. And letting us make it better. All the time. Without slowing you down.

Fewer security vulnerabilities

Zoom, long the standard in cloud video, has hit a snag. Their primary desktop experience requires a download which, in essence, turns your computer into a little web server and runs in the background even when you’re not using it. Sure, it allows for fast downloads of their updates, but it left a door wide open. A big hole in security. A vulnerability that has recently been discovered, and has put the conferencing giant on the defensive.

With a WebRTC experience happening entirely in-browser, however, it leaves no trace on your PC. No little window for quick access into your computer’s systems. And CERTAINLY no outside access to your camera.

Don’t be surprised if you see some other players making a similar change. Soon.

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