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WebRTC market expected to see more gradual changes

In the new year, track these WebRTC market trends -- the proliferation of API platforms, the adoption of live broadcast streaming, and whatever Microsoft and Apple decide to do.

Another new year means another round of reflections and projections for the WebRTC market. At the beginning of 2016, I made a list of predictions for WebRTC, an open source project that embeds real-time voice, text and video communications into web browsers. So, let's see how I did and take a glimpse into 2017.

At the start of last year, I wrote that Microsoft would improve its Edge browser and focus on video. While Microsoft is not quite there, Edge now supports WebRTC and not just object real-time communications (ORTC), an open source component of WebRTC. The browser also offers voice interoperability, and it could add H.264 and VP8 video codec support. However, Edge is not gaining market share.

Meanwhile, Google Chrome did add some functionality for ORTC, which got wrapped into the WebRTC specification roadmap. Last year, I said Apple would introduce something on iOS and Mac. Apple did start adding WebRTC-related APIs to its Safari Technology Preview, but it isn't properly baked yet.

In 2017, expect Microsoft to continue chugging along. Microsoft won't add WebRTC to Internet Explorer, and Edge won't attract users in any significant way -- unless the market changes drastically. Apple will finally have WebRTC somewhere, but not full coverage and not on all devices.

Video codecs stagnant; API platforms active

Video codecs were interesting in 2015, but somehow less of a story in 2016. As I predicted, VP8, VP9 and H.264 are almost the standard baseline of support in browsers. Microsoft still has ways to go to support all three, and nobody knows what Apple would decide to adopt.

The Alliance for Open Media -- a group focused on developing next-generation media formats -- progressed nicely with its new codec, AV1. The group also attracted several vendors, with really just Apple and Samsung missing.

This trend will not change in 2017. Codecs will still be discussed, and what's available in the market won't change much. The Alliance for Open Media will grow, but it won't offer anything that is product-ready yet.

Last year, I also predicted two or more acquisitions in the WebRTC market, and two or more vendors would close or pivot out of the business. Here's what really happened in 2016:

  • Private equity firm Siris Capital acquired communications software developer Xura. Cloud-based communications provider CLX Communications acquired API provider Sinch. These weren't exactly the type of acquisitions I envisioned, but acquisitions nonetheless.
  • Communications-platform-as-a-service vendor Twilio acquired Kurento, an open source WebRTC media server.  
  • Telecom giant AT&T quietly shut down its Enhanced WebRTC APIs.
  • Lastly, we're seeing new players enter the WebRTC market. Video collaboration provider Vidyo introduced, a video platform as a service. Cloud communications provider RingCentral is now offering an API platform. And voice over IP service provider Vonage acquired Nexmo, a cloud communications platform.

In 2017, we'll probably see one or two vendors disappear. Some smaller vendors won't make it to 2018. They'll either close quietly, or be acquired for their technology or customer base.

Contact centers get visual; live broadcasts bloom

With regard to WebRTC in contact centers, expect 2017 to be a continuation of 2016. Smaller players will increase their use of WebRTC, but mainly internally, as part of the contact-center agent's software. Larger players will struggle to add WebRTC.

In 2016, we saw the interesting development of visual assistance support, in which a contact center helps customers in a visual way -- a "see what I see" type of support. This service will continue to grow in 2017, but will remain a niche.

In other WebRTC market developments, Flash is just about dead. Google Chrome will soon require an opt-in for Flash content, making it a less-than-optimal service.

In 2016, Microsoft acquired Beam, a startup specializing in live broadcast over WebRTC for gaming purposes. Microsoft made Beam technology part of Windows 10 and Xbox One. On the other side of this spectrum, we've seen video-sharing website Dailymotion adopt Peer5 and Streamroot peer-to-peer video-delivery technology.

In 2017, expect more vendors to adopt WebRTC in large-scale streaming and broadcast-type scenarios. The keyword there will be live.

Messaging thrives; WebRTC technology 'maturing nicely'

In 2016, I predicted enterprises would shift toward enterprise messaging and Facebook would introduce multiparty conversations with WebRTC. Both happened.

Messaging services HipChat and Slack now offer group video calls. And Microsoft launched Teams, a team chat app. With WebRTC or not, Teams is focused on enterprise messaging more than unified communications. Facebook launched group video chat. And Google introduced Duo, a video chat app for consumers, and started to refocus Hangouts on the enterprise market.

Enterprise vendors will continue their slow adoption of WebRTC, playing catch-up to Slack.

In 2017, we'll see these trends grow. Enterprise vendors will continue their slow adoption of WebRTC, playing catch-up to Slack. In the consumer space, we'll see a struggle to redefine the market to gain some differentiation.

On the technology front, WebRTC is 5 years old and maturing nicely. The bigger problems, such as voice and video calling with reasonable interoperability across browsers, have been resolved for the seasoned WebRTC players. In 2017, we'll see the rigorous work that stabilizes and polishes the core implementation of WebRTC, but we'll also take a critical look at what areas need refinement.

It's time to get down to business and develop services on top of WebRTC and stop thinking what it is good for.

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