Microsoft and Google are squaring up over WebRTC - Real Time Communications. This is the technology that enables browsers and web apps to exchange time-critical data in a standard way. In other words browser-to-browser voice and video - no service subscription, not necessarily an operator. By I.D. Scales.
There's more to WebRTC than just voice but inevitably it's being seen as the ultimate voice disruptor. Where standards such as SIP and service models such as Skype use IP and the Internet to more or less create IP equivalents to traditional subscription-based voice services, WebRTC makes voice communications in real time a function of the software or web page a user happens to using - so a call to a friend on Facebook (just for instance) might be initiated simply by clicking on something while online; a service 'help' call when making an online purchase.. ditto. Yes, you do see this sort of thing now, but strong, well-supporting and open RTC standards should see a lot more of it.
And, this being an increasingly HTML5/Java sort of world, users won't need to be on a browser. Calling or receiving a voice call will just as likely involve a 'non-native' app or widget running on a computer, tablet or smartphone.
As always in these cases, a successful WebRTC standard will involve both downsides and opportunities, not just for your traditional telcos but for what might be thought of as the new incumbents in the VoIP space - the Skypes, Vibers and even Google. For the traditional telcos, services based around WebRTC directly threaten not just voice revenues, but the new rich multimedia services they want to push over the next gen network under the RCS (Rich Communication Services) banner.
The first incarnation, called JOYN, was announced at MWC earlier this year.
For existing VoIP and video services WebRTC may also be a threat as much as an opportunity. Which is no doubt the reason Microsoft (which of course paid through the nose for Skype in 2011 and needs to stay on top of things) is putting a lot of effort into influencing the standard.
Microsoft just announced its committment to WebRTC and plonked down its own concrete proposal. Something called CU-RTC-Web “Customizable, Ubiquitous Real Time Communication over the Web,” is being contributed by Microsoft to the World Wide Web Consortium's WebRTC working group which is developing an API for browser to browser voice and video.
Google is a long-time keen supporter of WebRTC and has already applied the technology to its Chrome browser. The development of WebRTC might therefore become a bit of a battleground, with Microsoft keen for the standards to support Skype (or at least not cut it off at the knees). Its proposed API and general technology approach appears to emphasis much more diversity than does Google's (which has also donated code - in its case the VP8 video codec it open-sourced in 2010).
Under the current approach Google's Codec would be the default. Microsoft, according to observers, wants a diveristy of video codecs and more openess about what codecs can be included in the future.
The outcome is likely to be a compromise, but with significant ground yielded to Microsoft. If that pulls Microsoft into the tent as a WebRTC supporter, though, the rest of the World Wide Web Consortium will no doubt be happy.
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