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WebRTC and VoIP: Friend or Foe?

By Carl Blume on April 4, 2018
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On average, businesses save 50 to 75 percent switching from old office phones to VoIP. Countless businesses rely on VoIP to handle their business communications, so when WebRTC entered the communication space, it was a point of contention for many. Did WebRTC have the potential to overtake VoIP? Could the two play nice together? Would WebRTC save businesses even more money than VoIP?

Let’s break down the basics of WebRTC and VoIP, and see whether they are competitors in this space or can help each other thrive.

What is WebRTC?

WebRTC is an open standard, the APIs are standardized at the World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C), of which we are a member as well. The corresponding networking protocols, rtcweb are standardized at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

WebRTC communication includes audio, video, and data transfers, and aims to make peer-to-peer communication user-friendly. Initially, it was particularly unique because it eliminated the need for plugins. WebRTC apps can be used in Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Edge, as well as natively on Xbox, iOS, and Android. In recent years, WebRTC has become more popular, in part due to Google open-sourcing libwebrtc. It is also the heart of several Native apps (Android, iOS), which means that WebRTC in many ways outgrew the “Web” part of its name!

What is VoIP?

Voice over IP (VoIP) is a technology that delivers voice and multimedia content over Internet Protocol (IP) networks, including the Internet. It was first experimented with as early as 1973, but didn’t hit the market until 1995 as an Internet phone software called Vocaltec.

VoIP is considered to be interchangeable with IP telephony, even though it was previously exclusive to connecting private branch exchanges with IP. It is enabled through the use of desktop VoIP phones, softphone applications, and more recently, browsers with support for WebRTC. VoIP is widely adopted in consumer, corporate, and even some government markets due to the low cost of operation.

WebRTC and VoIP Share the Same Goal

WebRTC and VoIP both share the same objective. They are both designed to improve and enable effective and effortless communication between individuals. However, they don’t do this in a way that’s meant to compete with each other. They each operate with a different focus to instead complement each other. VoIP works within limited deployment like enterprises, as services offered by an ISP as a Rich Communication Suite (RCS), or by an over the top provider for IP telephony. In contrast, WebRTC works to enable real-time communications, such as VoIP, enterprise communication, collaboration, social apps, and any thing developers could dream of.

VoIP started in the 90s. It merged IP and communications and initiated the protocol and building blocks for real-time communication (e.g., SIP, RTP, TURN, STUN, etc). In 2011, when the community started building WebRTC, they took all of the myriad of protocols and standards built for VoIP and media conferencing, and cherry picked the important profiles to deliver real-time communication (including VoIP).

Even though they share the same goal, they are not the same. In fact, the way they are designed and the use cases they fit into can accompany each other to build better products together.

WebRTC and VoIP are Friends, not Foes

Despite the hype, WebRTC is not equipped to replace VoIP. Instead, WebRTC can facilitate VoIP to reach new avenues it could not before. It can empower VoIP to live inside your web browser.

In WebRTC, the signaling protocol is largely undefined. Developers are left to decide what they want to implement. This gives developers the potential to create a unique VoIP soft client in the web browser. This expands the potential of VoIP, instead of squashing it. It adds a multi-faceted, new layer of functionality for developers to bake into their websites - direct VoIP capabilities, combined with peer-to-peer video and collaboration.

Even further still, WebRTC has improved video quality over other options such as Flash. Developers can improve their user experience by having clearer video calls, reduced latency, and faster connections.

While WebRTC and VoIP share similar goals, they do not need to compete for them. They can work together to implement better communication and help developers build better applications. WebRTC makes VoIP more accessible, not less.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about WebRTC and how it is impacting communication, check out our WebRTC Metrics Reports. These reports are a series dedicated to presenting key data and insights on the WebRTC sessions monitored by callstats.io.


Tags: Real-time Communications, WebRTC, VoIP