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The impact WebRTC will make on the enterprise landscape

Within the financial services sector, real-time video and audio will be extremely useful for discussing transactions and agreements efficiently and securely. For example, when securing a loan the customer visits the website to check the lender's rates. They decide they want more information, but instead of having to arrange a meeting with a lender representative at a later date, they can launch an instant video or audio call in their browser to agree the deal. WebRTC signifies the next stage in B2C management.

WebRTC lends itself particularly well to telemedicine, specifically in terms of aftercare and therapy (not emergency treatment) as it removes the need for patients or medical professionals to travel excessively. This improves the overall care for, and recovery of, the patient, as well as reducing the costs associated with the treatment.

Polycom can already see where some of its customers could make use of WebRTC. For example, NHS Lothian is using Polycom RealPresence CloudAXIS for patient follow up in home as part of a breastfeeding clinic. But the average new mother probably won't have a brand new PC or mobile device at home, so their older technology probably won't be capable of running WebRTC, as it puts a greater load on the host device.

Within the social and public sector there are clear opportunities for applications, as part of the drive towards digital access and inclusion. Often governmental regulations can be complex for citizens to understand, and the opportunity to ask questions, face-to-face and immediately, would improve the level of service provided to citizens at a local and national level, as well as increase levels of compliance.

Many of us will have used the chat function on retailers' websites. For sales advisors and customer service departments, the move to a more human interaction over video that works at the click of a button, would be great in terms of improving sales and customer satisfaction.

Issues and considerations

Worldwide there are over three million devices which function through SIP, ISDN or H323, and all of these will need to communicate with the WebRTC standard. Given the average time for IT refresh cycles (four to six years before legacy hardware is supplanted by soft clients), these devices will not disappear before WebRTC enters the market.

Businesses would benefit from using a standards-based system to support WebRTC, as they would be able to mix existing IT deployments with the new standard in an interoperable environment.

In terms of actually getting WebRTC to the market, the industry will probably look at creating specialised clients based on the core building block of WebRTC. But until all browsers can support WebRTC and can do so with the requisite quality, it makes sense to maintain plug-in alternatives to fill the gaps in WebRTC functionality.

When it comes to hardware and networking requirements, a WebRTC video application will demand a reasonable host. The bandwidth will not be high, and may even run at a better bandwidth consumption level than today's video clients because the algorithms used are highly efficient. These algorithms are efficient but complex, so they need greater processing power built into the actual device.

This means they may not work on outdated devices, including current tablets and smartphones. It may well be the case that the devices released in the last two years will be capable of running WebRTC based on the in-development H.265 video compression code, which is 50% more efficient than H.264 but requires four to five times more processing power. In this sense, from a performance point of view, WebRTC doesn't come for free.

  • Andrew Hug is Vice President, Sales Engineers EMEA, at Polycom