WebRTC is an open source framework that allows web browsers and mobile applications to run rich, multimedia, real-time communications without the user having to download plugins or external apps.
Most web-based voice or video chat interactions require the users to login and access a third-party application such as Skype or Whatsapp, or subscribe to some kind of VoIP service. The interaction happens over this third party service, which connects the participants together.
WebRTC, on the other hand, uses APIs (application programming interfaces) and HTML5 to make a direct, peer-to-peer connection between two – or more – browsers or web apps. As there is no third party involved, just the users’ browsers, neither party needs to download any software or subscribe to any service.
It’s private, free, and open – all you need is an internet connection. The technology is now supported by all major browsers and, most importantly, is standardised across all platforms.
The story so far
The technologies behind WebRTC have been around a long time, but the open source project we know today was launched in 2010 by Google, along with the various web standards bodies. Today some of the world’s most popular communications services are based on WebRTC protocols, including Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger.
It’s estimated that Chrome browser users engage in over 1.5 billion minutes of audio/video calls per week using WebRTC, and the technology is expected to be a $55 billion opportunity by 2026, with an impressive annual growth rate of 18%.
The benefits of WebRTC
Traditional communications like voice calls and SMS are usually provided by the network operator, which of course charges per minute or per text. Recently third-party applications like Messenger have become popular.
While there is something to be said for being able to target customers and prospects on apps like Messenger and Whatsapp, the truth is that Facebook (in this case) is the gatekeeper and is needed to enable the communication. For brands that want control over their own communication channels, WebRTC provides a way to engage with customers directly on their personal devices (with their permission, of course).
WebRTC allows companies to build rich, low-latency voice or video chat into their native mobile applications, or directly into their websites. Imagine having a ‘Call Me’ button on your website that allows a customer to connect instantly and directly with a contact centre agent via a video call, right there in their browser.
The benefits of such a direct and unmediated route to customers have yet to be appreciated by most brands, which means there is still an early-mover advantage for companies that wish to lead the way in creating new and innovative customer experiences.
Use cases of WebRTC
Direct to customers, and vice-versa: Voice, video, and text chat without passing through a third party service plugs you directly into your customers’ personal devices.
Compelling multimedia experiences: Mix media by deploying voice, video, co-browsing, document sharing and other overlays in the customer’s browser to create memorable interactions.
Vendor freedom: Enable high quality visual, audio, and interactive communications with customers and prospects without relying on any third party technology or vendor.
Reduce telecoms costs: No need to pay per minute or per call when all you need is an internet connection for rich, multimedia communications.
- As the communication is between just the parties involved, with no service provider or app in between, it is inherently more secure.
- Before it can access a device’s camera or microphone, the WebRTC application must ask for and receive specific permission from each user.
- All communications are encrypted and therefore unreadable except by their intended recipient.
What to look out for
While the whole WebRTC framework continues to be developed, the technologies it incorporates have been mature and enterprise-ready for a number of years. Its beauty is that it is so simple for the customer to use, requiring no downloads or third-party apps.
Companies deploying WebRTC do require access to coding talent to use the framework, however technically it’s no more difficult than building mobile apps. The benefit is that apps built using WebRTC will be totally under the company’s control and capable of delivering unique customer experiences, making them a tremendous source of value.