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Six things you need to know about WebRTC

New standard for browser-based conferencing could shake up enterprise networks

By Phil Hippensteel, Network World
July 01, 2013 06:07 AM ET

Network World - WebRTC (Real-Time Communication) is a series of designs and guidelines promoted by Google and others through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and MPEG groups to provide a common stack for audio and video communications directly between two browsers.  

It already is a part of the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox and Opera. It will also work with Internet Explorer by using Google’s ChromeFrame plug-in.

WebRTC provides a means of video collaboration without causing concerns about vendor specific matters like gateways, client software versions and licenses and signaling techniques. In most cases it will be possible to integrate WebRTC into the vendor’s unified communications architecture. Most vendors are announcing such intentions or at least carefully watching the WebRTC growth. However, what will be the real impact of WebRTC on the enterprise and the enterprise network?  

1. WebRTC could raise security issues.

WebRTC will enable employees to do more ad hoc videoconferencing. This means there will be potential benefits, but some risks. Users won’t need vendor-licensed clients to do desktop video conferencing. So, the participants in the conference may be either inside or outside of the company. One could be an employee of a competitor. The ability of outsiders to probe into companies, by using social engineering to establish calls, will increase. Also, monitoring these calls with sniffer-like tools will raise legal questions about privacy. Currently, monitoring video that includes audio is considered wiretapping in most jurisdictions.

What is WebRTC?

2. WebRTC will increase traffic levels on the enterprise network.

Within unified communication suites, such as Avaya’s Aura and Microsoft’s Lync, knowing someone’s presence tells you if they are available for a call or conference. Assuming they are, a single click establishes the connection. However, if Avaya, Microsoft and others embrace WebRTC, the call could also be video as well as audio. This could  require a 10-fold increase in network bandwidth. This even would be true for calls that are browser to browser.

3. The WebRTC movement will increase the diversity of endpoint types for video conferencing.

Currently, with vendor specific video conferencing, the IT department has some control over which endpoints can do conferences. That’s because they control the license to the software clients sold by the vendor. But with WebRTC, there isn’t a client module. So, the employee has access to conferencing capabilities on any platform that supports a common browser. Currently that only excludes Android devices, but that will certainly change. Now, the employee will be able to conference from the parking lot, grocery store, or home office. While that traffic will be on the network to which the employee is connected, it will also be on the corporate network, if the other party on the call is also an employee.

Within the company, if there is heavy use of wireless, the wireless networks could be severely swamped with this new traffic. Hotels, schools and universities, and retail stores providing cafes immediately come to mind.

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