WebRTC: What Is It and Why Companies Need to Embrace It

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Recently I was tasked with corralling busy executives for a monthly advisory board meeting at a startup where I consult. The trouble was getting these jetsetters all in the same place at the same time. The best we could do was pithy back and forth emails and try to set a date that worked for everyone. It wasn't ideal.

Then, I was handed the job of improving this situation, and I rolled out a video conferencing solution in five hours, without any cost to the startup. Now, the virtual monthly meetings have gone off without a hitch, and everyone thinks I’m brilliant.

I’m not brilliant. I just know tech trends. WebRTC is the real star here, and smart businesses are turning to the technology just like I did.

WebRTC, which stands for web real-time communications, is an emerging standard for voice and video communications that is taking the telecommunications industry by storm. The open-source protocol enables video, audio and file-sharing through a standard web browser, eliminating the need for platform-specific software, plugins, or vendor lock-in that complicates and raises the cost of existing video-conferencing solutions.

Related: 8 Keys to Leading a Dispersed Team to Maximum Productivity

The technology is still new, so not every browsers support it out of the box. (Safari, we’re looking at you.) But Disruptive Analysis reports that there will be 6 billion devices that support WebRTC by the end of 2019, and both startups and established businesses are using it today, because it is so easy to use -- never mind the cost savings.

Here are five reasons why startups of all types should be embracing WebRTC.

1. WebRTC is easy

Currently, there are three main options for video conferencing: over-the-top commercial solutions like Skype, cloud solutions such as GoToMeeting and hardware-based unified communications solutions like Avaya and Cisco.

But these solutions have issues. Using Skype and GoToMeeting, of involves jumping back and forth among applications to pull together contact information and passwords, among other things. There’s also the issue of logging everyone into the same system.

With hardware-based unified communication solutions such as Microsoft Lync, there’s deployment complexity and integration costs.

WebRTC avoids these issues. All you do is click a link, the browser opens and there’s your video conference. WebRTC is game changing, even above and beyond the likes of easy-to-use Skype.

2. Better sales and customer service

The trouble with existing video solutions is the complexity. Since WebRTC makes video as easy as web browsing, it opens up new opportunities both for sales and customer service. As we all know, “new opportunities” is code for startups kicking butt and “disrupting” existing business processes.

For sales, WebRTC enables superior selling opportunities, because it can connect sales staff with potential customers more fully than phone sales or chat options. Its screen and file-sharing functionality also helps the presentation process and customers can easily see PowerPoint presentations and other visual collateral even if they are not there in person.

For customer service, WebRTC can bring ultra-personalized customer interactions like we recently have seen with Amazon’s Mayday button on its Kindle Fire, which uses WebRTC.

3. Improved employee collaboration

A lot of businesses are embracing the decentralized workforce but none faster than the startup. WebRTC is ideally suited for this new workplace reality, because it makes quick, face-to-face interactions easy and frictionless. Video conferencing in general brings collaboration back to the distributed workforce, and WebRTC nails the sweet spot for easy, rich communication.

Related: 10 Ways to Successfully Manage Virtual Teams

4. Secure communications

Most VoIP and UC solutions are less secure than we think. That’s because they often use real-time transport protocol (RTP) for calls. The trouble is that RTP is not secure.

Secure RTP (SRTP) delivers authentication and encryption for a truly secure connection, which is what we all want. Unfortunately, this can be tricky to set up, and this has meant that many VoIP and UC solutions in practice settle on the less secure RTP protocol instead.

WebRTC doesn’t suffer from this security problem. Being a newer technology and an open source one at that, it uses the secure SRTP by default. So not only is WebRTC easier to use than most UC solutions, it is also more secure out of the box.

5. Low cost

Aside from simplicity, the cost of WebRTC is one of the best reasons that startups should embrace the technology.

Since WebRTC is a protocol that can be embedded with a few lines of JavaScript and can be used on any device that runs a modern web browser, it doesn’t require subscription fees, software licensing or dedicated hardware. This means huge savings. All the core WebRTC technologies from Google and others are free and open source (at webrtc.org), but if you want them pre-packaged and easier to use then you may want to pay a little for pre-built libraries and cloud services from a WebRTC infrastructure company. Here are a few: PubNub.com, Intercom.io and Agora.IO (have a relationship with this company).

But WebRTC saves businesses money elsewhere, too. Since WebRTC is so easy to use and deploy, there’s no need for software integrators or training sessions. Businesses can also consider reducing their business phone lines in favor of Web RTC-based communications, further cutting costs.

This just scratches the surface of why startups should be looking at WebRTC. It makes sense today, and it is the future of real-time communications. Perhaps even more important, it is a new framework that smart businesses can use for disruption and innovation; the best use cases haven’t even emerged yet.

WebRTC can make you look like a genius, but throw in a dash of creativity and more than just your personal reputation will benefit.

Related: Richard Branson on the Right Way to Communicate