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WebRTC standard designation highlights technology's evolution

The WebRTC standard is official. Learn how the technology evolved beyond facilitating embedded video communications and the future of the standard.

The World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force have finally ratified Web Real-Time Communications as an official standard. WebRTC is a collection of standards, protocols and JavaScript API definitions that enables real-time communications in web browsers. Ten years of hard work have gotten us to this important milestone.

WebRTC started with the goal of a standardized JavaScript API that can be used by any developer to build video chat applications. By embedding the technology inside web browsers, WebRTC lowered the barrier of entry for many vendors and reduced the time to bring applications to market.

That initial use case of a video chat is still strong today -- probably much stronger due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the real story is taking in the richness of WebRTC use cases and the transition of communications from a service into a feature.

WebRTC's expanding use cases

WebRTC use cases started with video chat and voice calling enabled in the browser. This is also how the vendors originally involved in the early standardization of WebRTC saw things. As time went by, more WebRTC use cases started cropping up, including the following:

  • low-latency, interactive live broadcasts;
  • remotely driving vehicles and drones;
  • enterprise content delivery network and peer-to-peer data delivery;
  • secure and private transmission of messages;
  • identifying browser bots and automations; and
  • fingerprinting users surfing the web for ad placement.

The work in front of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) moving forward is how to provide more low-level controls and access into the WebRTC technology stack in an efficient manner to enable even more use cases.

By embedding the technology inside web browsers, WebRTC lowered the barrier of entry for many vendors and reduced the time to bring applications to market.

Transitioning communications from service to feature

Up until the WebRTC standard came to the world, voice over IP and digital communications were viewed as services. Organizations that needed calling capabilities turned to carriers or communications vendors. For video conferencing, organizations went to video conferencing specialists.

WebRTC, however, is accessible to the masses of web developers, opening the doors to implement services in different market segments with as much or as little communications as their customers required in their apps. In this sense, communications became a feature, rather than a service.

For example, healthcare vendors today can use WebRTC to implement a telehealth service on their own. They could also use a specialized telehealth vendor or opt for a generic communication service provider to cater to their needs. Each of these approaches brings with it a different quality and a different focus.

A specialized telehealth vendor would put more emphasis on doctor-patient needs and interactions than a generic communication service provider. Building in-house with WebRTC gives the healthcare vendor a tighter integration with other systems.

The same thinking applies to other industries like financial services and e-commerce. We now see more specialized vendors and organizations turning to WebRTC to fill a piece inside their service, embedding it another feature, rather than building standalone communication capabilities.

The future of the WebRTC standard

WebRTC is now officially a standard. Does it change anything? Not really. Developers, startups and large enterprises alike have assumed in recent years that WebRTC would become a standard. They have made their plans based on that assumption, and thousands of applications based on WebRTC are used daily around the world. Getting to this milestone doesn't change anything for these vendors or their users.

The main challenges of WebRTC today are the differences in implementations by web browser vendors. Changes to web browsers, such as optimization updates, depreciations and even bugs, can negatively affect WebRTC usage and performance. These challenges aren't new, however, and won't go away any time soon.

After 10 years of hard work in the industry, WebRTC is still in its infancy, and there is still work ahead for W3C and the Internet Engineering Task Force. Browser vendors, too, have their hands full with roadmap items that need to be introduced into their WebRTC implementations. The next 10 years are about to be just as exciting as the previous ones.

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