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WebRTC Is New Factor in Mobile, Web Development

It might be a bit early to proclaim 2015 the "Year of WebRTC," but the nascent Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) technology seems to be gaining significant traction early on.

Communications giant AT&T this week announced at its developer conference that it will be the first U.S. carrier to commercially support the emerging initiative, which offers seamless browser-to-browser audio, video and messaging communication. AT&T also announced an open beta program for its AT&T Enhanced WebRTC API, which the company says enhances the basic WebRTC standard.

And the very next day, at the mammoth 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, mobile messaging company Acision announced an agreement with WebRTC specialist Blacc Spot Media Inc. to further development efforts. Acision also announced a developer contest -- called "forgeathon" -- in which entrants can use the company's forge by Acision SDK toolkit to create winning Android, iOS or Web apps. Blacc Spot Media will also be sponsoring a developer contest called the WebRTC Challenge.

WebRTC, according to Wikipedia, "is an API definition drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that supports browser-to-browser applications for voice calling, video chat and P2P file sharing without the need of either internal or external plug-ins."

Released as open source technology by Google Inc. in 2011, WebRTC not only lessens the dependence on plug-ins such as Adobe Flash (and possible licensing fees), but allows developers using just HTML5 and JavaScript to do things like let users initiate calls from browsers and then transfer them to their smartphones without losing the connections.

WebRTC architecture
[Click on image for larger view.] WebRTC Architecture (Source: WebRTC.org)

At the CES show, for example, Acision and Blacc Spot Media demonstrated a scenario in which a customer using his bank's Web site can click to get help from a support specialist -- identified with a PIN -- and then use that PIN as a telephone number extension to reestablish communication with that specialist, if needed, after the customer returns to browsing.

Besides the Google Chrome browser, WebRTC is supported by the Mozilla and Opera browsers, and Microsoft has also vouched support in its Internet Explorer browser. The Apple Safari browser offers no support and the company has been quiet on the issue. Google and others, however, are quite active in the project. Google operates the webrtc.org site, and samples and demos are also available on GitHub.

While WebRTC is under consideration as a standard on the API level by the W3C and as a protocol by the IETF, the technology is in its infancy and many details are still being worked out. AT&T, for example, claimed its implementation improves upon the basic technology in several ways.

"The first enhancement is that Enhanced WebRTC communications can now extend to land lines and mobile numbers, not just P2P or browser-to-browser sessions," AT&T said in a statement. "This is valuable for developers and customers and will spur growth by eliminating a key barrier to adoption. A second enhancement is the ability for developers to programmatically enable Caller ID for WebRTC communications through the use of their end user's AT&T mobile number, for calls placed from WebRTC-enabled browsers. Last, developers now can enable end users to move or transfer a call starting on a PC, Mac or tablet to a smartphone."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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