WebRTC is a Natural Fit for the Enterprise

Here’s something funny. While most complain that WebRTC isn’t suitable for the enterprise, it is probably the next best thing happening to enterprises. And it is all because we’re in the midst of a digital transformation.
WebRTC is a five-year-old technology, so it is rather new to the scene. At its core, WebRTC enables adding real-time voice and video communications to any website without the need to download a thing. Need to get a customer on a quick support call? Just send him a URL.
The naysayers dismiss WebRTC because it still isn’t available on Safari or Internet Explorer. While that is true, it is changing. Support already exist in the new Microsoft Edge browser with reassuring rumors about Apple and Safari’s plans towards WebRTC. Ubiquitous WebRTC support everywhere is on the horizon.
Which brings me to enterprises.
Enterprises today are going through a digital transformation. In each and every vertical, businesses are being redefined by having the information that runs through the enterprise turned into digital assets that are then used to drive business processes and analytics.
This takes shape in many different ways: enabling customers to use self-service channels instead of using human operated contact centers, using big data and data lake projects to deduce insights and personalize services, streamlining sales processes through marketing automation, etc.
To make this happen, enterprises must integrate the different IT services they employ internally. The ERP system must connect to the e-commerce site, which must be integrated with the contact center, that in turn has to be accessible to the marketer.
Until a few years ago, such projects were only available to the largest of enterprises, relying heavily on protocols such as SOAP and products such as ESBs (Enterprise Service Bus). It takes many man months and lots of dollars to build such integrations, and they oftentimes end up failing due to their size and complexity.
In recent years, though, such integrations have shifted towards the use of REST. A lightweight cousin of SOAP. To explain REST, you need only look at your browser address bar – REST is essentially a URL call, similar to how you load a web page – but used by a program. While REST is rather loosely defined, the number of tools for handling it is growing rapidly and has come to a point where it is ready to replace SOAP.
Almost every new product or service that is being introduced to the market today includes a REST API, enabling integrators or developers to access it programmatically – in ways a lot easier than the older SOAP mechanism.
This change is coupled with the migration of IT towards cloud services. One where certain services are consumed from remote data centers instead of being installed and managed on-premise. This necessitates solid and publicly available APIs to use.
WebRTC fits perfectly in this brave new world.
Up until today, communications took place in a separate logical and often times even physical network. Be it cellular, wireline or VoIP service, these get built in its own private network or virtual LAN within the enterprise. And the interfaces built into these products in one of two ways: communication-based, which is hard to handle (think SIP or Megaco as an API layer for IT developers); or on some proprietary API that is hard to interface and integrate with.
WebRTC changes all that. It not only makes VoIP more accessible as a technology, but it almost forces developers to think with standard web protocols on how to use and deploy it. As an example, it gets your CRM vendor build his own contact center, many times with players such as Twilio who offer their own WebRTC SDK.
It is no wonder that enterprise vendors are adopting WebRTC en masse. Adopters include Oracle, IBM, Cisco, Atlassian, Slack and many others. The enterprise is where the advantages and ease of integration of WebRTC shine.
In a way, WebRTC is the last piece of the enterprise puzzle of migrating to the cloud and going through its digital transformation.

Telefonica’s Tu Go service turns to WebRTC for in-browser calls

The Spanish carrier group Telefónica is big on WebRTC, the technology that allows for plugin-free in-browser voice and video calls, among other things – it uses it for the in-browser Skype rival that’s built into Firefox these days, for example. So it’s no surprise to see the firm turn to WebRTC to power the next generation of its Tu Go service, which extends Telefónica/O2/Movistar’s services from the mobile network to Wi-Fi.

Whereas the desktop Tu Go client has so far been a discrete affair, it can now be accessed from within the browser, as long as that browser supports WebRTC – so far, Chrome and Firefox apparently offer the best experience. There’s no need to download anything extra and, as with the new Reach Me feature in rival Orange’s Libon app, this provides another way to take and make calls using your normal mobile phone number even when there’s no reception (Libon doesn’t require you to be an Orange customer, though).

The service bases its experience on conversation timelines and is designed to make it easy to continue conversations across devices. Tu Go for Web also makes it possible to conduct up to five conversations at once, which sounds technically impressive if somewhat mentally taxing.

One more thing to keep an eye out for: Telefónica is experimenting with integrating Tu Go with IFTTT so, for example, incoming SMSes could be automatically saved in Evernote or incoming calls from specific people could change the color of your home’s lighting as an alert.

When Tu Go came out a couple years back, I said Telefónica had pulled off the rare trick of creating unique value in a carrier-backed “over-the-top” (OTT) app — rather than just trying to cannibalize its own mobile services with an OTT rival. It is using the internet to extend that core service to new devices. It’s good to see the company still playing around with new ideas that this IP-based world makes possible.

Tu Go for Web is available now to O2 customers in the U.K. and Movistar customers in Argentina. It will also soon roll out to Peru, Mexico and Brazil, which are entirely new markets for Tu Go.

Kim Dotcom puts MegaChat secure Skype rival into beta

Kim Dotcom’s Mega has launched a public beta of its MegaChat end-to-end encrypted audio and video chat service, which it claims will offer a more secure alternative to Skype.

The in-browser service forms part of the wider Mega web app (now on a new .nz domain), which also offers encrypted file storage and sharing. The technical details are currently hard to come by – I can only guess that it’s WebRTC-based, as it doesn’t require a plugin.

According to scoundrelpreneur/wannabe-politician Dotcom, vanilla audio and video chat is just the start:

Mega has previously had poor ratings from security experts for its cloud storage encryption, but the New Zealand–based operation is offering a security bounty for anyone who finds flaws in its new services. That’s not the same as opening up the code for audit, of course – one reason to be somewhat skeptical about Dotcom’s claims.

Skype is certainly not a good choice for the security-minded: it’s not peer-to-peer anymore, and the Snowden documents suggested that the NSA has had access to Skype communications since 2011. [company]Microsoft[/company] has denied giving intelligence agencies “blanket access” to its services.

Security aside, in-browser video calls are set to become ubiquitous with the proliferation of WebRTC-based tools (Skype itself is heading in this direction, though its browser-based beta currently requires a plugin). Mozilla’s Firefox browser now even comes with a built-in Skype rival called Firefox Hello, which allows for Skype-style accounts and ad-hoc anonymous chats, too.

New Firefox gets social, brings beta Marketplace to desktop

Mozilla has released Firefox 35, which brings with it the enhancements to the Firefox Hello video-calling feature that I wrote about when they were in beta.

Firefox 35 also introduces a social sharing feature, making it easy to post a link to a webpage to a service such as [company]Facebook[/company] or [company]Twitter[/company], or to email it to a contact. This is similar to what Opera has been doing recently, and it’s interesting to see how the big Chrome rivals (let’s leave Internet Explorer out of it for now) are adding more features in a way that doesn’t necessarily make them look bloated in comparison to [company]Google[/company]’s streamlined browser.

Here’s how the right side of my Firefox toolbar looks now – there’s a good deal of functionality in there (the 1Password icon is the only third-party one) but it’s still tasteful and unobtrusive, at least to my eyes:

Firefox toolbar

To quickly recap the new Firefox Hello features, it’s now easier to set up an ad-hoc, anonymous call and to create a URL for such a call that can be repeatedly revisited by the participants – making it a bit like a virtual meeting room.

In a Tuesday blog post, Mozilla also said that it and its telco partner, Telefonica, aim to add new features to the WebRTC-based Firefox Hello such as screen-sharing and online collaboration – all from within the browser.

A more general blog post about Firefox 35 also noted that the Firefox Marketplace is now available for beta testing on the desktop. Firefox already has an add-on search facility, of course, but this is more like the Chrome Web Store, featuring a range of web apps.

The Firefox Marketplace is already available on mobile, and indeed it is effectively the app store for those with Firefox OS phones – the apps are all HTML5. So, by bringing it to the desktop, Mozilla is bringing its mobile and desktop efforts closer together.

Firefox’s built-in Skype rival begins to evolve

Firefox Hello, the WebRTC-based video-calling feature that Mozilla and partner Telefónica revealed as a beta feature in October, hit the mainstream — sort of — with the full release of Firefox 34 earlier this week.

It’s still very much under development though, being currently tucked away under the “customize” section in the browser’s settings menu. And, as of Thursday, those who download the beta of Firefox 35 can test out a few improvements.

The big changes are in the account-less call mode, which is moving towards a [company]Google[/company] Hangouts-style room model. When you initiate a call – something that’s done by sending a link to the person you want to talk to – Firefox Hello will now show you your own camera feed before your partner joins the call. The call begins as soon as the person you’ve called joins the conversation, whereas before they would have had to initiate a callback which you would have had to answer.

Users will also now be able to create and name multiple conversations for people they regularly want to talk to, again without needing to create an account or sign in. Not only is this URL-based approach anonymous (theoretically at least), but it also makes it easy to set up chats with users of other WebRTC-toting browsers, such as Chrome and Opera.

Those who do set up Firefox Hello accounts can of course make more traditional direct calls, which don’t involve passing on URLs as a setup mechanism.

Mozilla and Telefónica are very much looking for feedback on all this, so if you try it out, be sure to give them your opinion on the changes they’re making.

Ex-Skypers unveil Wire app, offering voice, messaging and more

The free service is currently available on iOS, Android and OS X, though an in-browser version will arrive soon. It’s been under development for two years and has a very credible team behind it. However, its security mechanisms remain a mystery.