What is WebRTC?
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First developed by Google in 2011, Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC) is one of the leading browser-based video streaming protocols in use today. Now supported by most major browsers, WebRTC enables fast, reliable, and real-time video and audio communications between hosts using nothing but a web browser.
The simplicity of WebRTC makes it highly accessible to a range of nontechnical users and extremely practical in a hybrid or remote enterprise setting, where speed and quality are essential to good video communication and maintaining high employee engagement.
What is WebRTC?
WebRTC is a free and open source project that uses application programming interfaces to enable secure, real-time video and audio communication between web browsers and mobile applications. It is a powerful video streaming and data sharing protocol that allows video and audio data to be shared between peers without requiring compatibility or complex IT support.
This makes it simple and easy for developers to create new video and audio communications applications. Vbrick’s enterprise video platform uses WebRTC capabilities to support the creation of user-generated content, so individuals can capture video on their personal computer and other devices and easily share that data with their wider enterprise networks.
The use of video communication has grown exponentially in recent years, causing the number of browsers that are enabled with WebRTC to similarly increase. WebRTC usage exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, as video communication became essential to the functioning of remote (and now hybrid) enterprises and video conferencing platforms were put into wider and more regular use.
In addition to capturing video content directly from the browser, WebRTC can help optimize video delivery over the network using a technology called data channels. These data channels allow peers viewing a live stream to share the video content with one another to reduce the amount of traffic coming into the network, thereby reducing cost and congestion and enabling a higher quality video experience.
The use of WebRTC offers developers, business users, and enterprises at large numerous advantages that help improve video experiences and promote better business outcomes.
- Facilitate video conferencing sessions: For users, the main benefit of WebRTC is they can easily access real-time video sessions from their web browser without having to download additional, third-party software. This makes it much easier for them to participate and stay engaged in remote work settings.
- Greater data confidentiality: When users access video via WebRTC, all video and voice data is required to be encrypted, and the encryption key is only accessible to the endpoints in the network. That means sensitive enterprise data doesn’t run the risk of being exposed to unauthorized, external users when employees aren’t using secure networks.
- Reduced software implementation costs: Users can access video conferencing sessions from any browser that supports WebRTC (which now includes Google Chrome, Firefox, and most other major browsers) without requiring additional plugins or software. That means enterprises don’t have to invest in costly software implementations to enable video conferencing, vastly reducing their IT spend.
Despite the widespread (and growing) use of WebRTC, there are some disadvantages associated with the technology that should be considered.
- Relies on the browser: Like many web technologies, WebRTC relies on the individual browser to support it. While most modern browsers now support WebRTC, their implementations could be different, creating an uneven experience for users. In addition, browsers can sometimes be unstable or crash, so users should be mindful to close other tabs when conducting live events to avoid interruptions.
- Maintenance can be costly: WebRTC is free and requires no additional software or plugins to run, but there are still maintenance costs associated with supporting a WebRTC server. Depending on the number of video sessions taking place over servers every day — for enterprises numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands of employees, that figure could be substantial — those maintenance costs can quickly skyrocket.
How WebRTC Works
When two peers want to establish a connection with one another, each of their browsers must generate a session description protocol (SDP), which consists of all the information needed to connect with other hosts. The SDPs of each host also contain a list of interactive connectivity establishment (ICE) candidates, which provide specific information regarding the ports and IP addresses available to establish a secure network connection. The ICE protocol uses this information to find the best network connection possible with the lowest latency.
However, it’s not always easy for hosts to gather ICE candidates, and sometimes public IP addresses are not readily available due to being placed behind a network address translation (NAT) gateway or a firewall. The SDP will request this information from a session traversal utilities for NAT (STUN) server, which is another protocol that can bypass NAT gateways and firewalls to access and share IP address and port information.
In some cases, there will still be restrictions around who can connect to certain devices over specific routers in an individual network, meaning the public IP address information obtained by the STUN server is still unusable. Traversal using relays around NAT (TURN) servers are used to bypass these restrictions by allowing peers to share and exchange data via the TURN server using temporary IP addresses, enabling the connection.
While these are the typical cases, it’s possible for users to bypass those challenges completely. At Vbrick, we maintain our own set of services that completely remove the need for STUN and TURN servers, enabling users to establish peer-to-peer connections without network issues.
WebRTC vs. WebSockets
WebSocket is another communications protocol that acts as one of the main alternatives to WebRTC. While WebSocket also enables the transfer of data between browsers and devices, connections are facilitated by a local server. Latency is minimal, but it exists, and while that might not be noticeable for the end user in text-only communications, it can create serious challenges in video and audio communications where real-time accuracy is essential.
The WebRTC protocol uses a peer-to-peer communication framework that allows video and audio to completely bypass the server, reducing latency to less than a second and facilitating more seamless, higher quality video and audio communications. Improved latency is the main advantage of using WebRTC over WebSockets.
WebRTC Enterprise Applications
WebRTC can be used in enterprise settings in ways that extend well beyond basic video communications, providing modern hybrid enterprises with a wide range of video applications.
- Asynchronous video / content creation: Users can create and store asynchronous videos for use by other employees at a later time, including prerecorded videos covering key onboarding, training sessions, or answers to frequently asked questions. With an enterprise video platform, all of this created content can be easily stored and accessed by other users, making it simple for organizations to share and exchange critical institutional knowledge without requiring new sessions every time that information is needed.
- Video broadcasts: WebRTC data channels can be used to share video segments with other peers as part of an enterprise content delivery network (eCDN) to facilitate high-quality peer-to-peer distribution to thousands of users at once. Senior leadership teams can deliver important company updates, make announcements or share information during company-wide video streaming broadcasts, facilitating the transfer of critical information across the entire organization.
- Live events: Live streaming events became popular during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but many enterprises have since realized the opportunity they presented to engage with both customers and employees across vast geographic space. Similar to internal video broadcasts, enterprises can pair WebRTC with an eCDN to facilitate live steaming events that serve both in-person and remote audiences without overwhelming enterprise networks.
- Synchronous video: Not only is it frustrating when employees aren’t able to connect to their colleagues over video, it can also make it harder for them to complete their job tasks, causing project delays and missed deadlines. WebRTC enables fast, reliable, and secure video connections between different browsers in an easy, reliable format so employees can easily connect with their colleagues for real-time communication right on their browser.
Future WebRTC Trends and Developments
The world of work is changing, and that means there are a growing number of opportunities for WebRTC to continue becoming the video streaming protocol of choice for both developers and business users. As companies invest in their hybrid and remote work models, quality video streaming will play a more essential part in maintaining high levels of communication between teams and employees.
Moreover, the Great Resignation and other challenges managers face around hiring and retention mean enterprises must devote more time and money to creating quality, seamless, and convenient employee experiences that will keep staff happy. Part of those strategies involve deploying reliable video streaming protocols like WebRTC to create exceptional video experiences that maintain a high level of employee engagement and empower teams to complete their job functions.
As video technology continues to evolve, here are some of the possible future trends and developments involving WebRTC:
Machine learning (ML)
WebRTC could enable users to train ML models using real-time video and audio input. This might provide enterprises with more complete information regarding operations and analytics they can use to more accurately automate and streamline existing processes for better, more efficient performance. ML capabilities will likely become more advanced as WebRTC integrations deepen, creating more effective AI/ML algorithms with more robust applications.
Internet of Things (IoT)
WebRTC facilitates greater video and audio connectivity between internet-enabled devices, maximizing connections between end users. In an enterprise setting, employees gain access to a much wider range of devices they can use to complete complex work functions and maintain connections with colleagues more conveniently. WebRTC will likely continue to be incorporated into IoT devices to enable real-time video and audio communications across a more comprehensive set of applications.
WebRTC is a bidirectional video streaming protocol, enabling interactions between both peers on either end of the connection. For company events, this facilitates a greater degree of engagement between event guests and participants, creating higher quality events that are better able to draw audiences and generate value. This is especially useful in an enterprise setting where live events form an important part of corporate agendas.
Companies are beginning to explore the opportunities created by the genesis of the metaverse — the digital-first virtual environment that promises to be the future of work, entertainment, socialization, and more. As enterprises seriously consider setting up shop in a virtual world, WebRTC might serve a critical function as data confidentiality, low latency, and reliable video and audio data transferrals will be fundamental and indispensable to the operation of workplaces in virtual reality.
Build Powerful Video Applications With Vbrick
WebRTC will continue to find applications in enterprise settings as the reliance on remote work deepens and the use of video communication grows. As it does, business leaders need to equip their teams with video tools that empower them to design video solutions that meet pressing enterprise needs.
Vbrick’s industry-leading video platform as a service gives enterprises access to a robust set of APIs and SDKs they can use to build video into custom products and applications, enhancing customer experience and deepening employee engagement.