Over the last few years, almost all the emphasis in discussions and development using WebRTC standards has been centered around voice and video. There is a third channel – the data channel – in the WebRTC specification that could end up being the most powerful of all three, particularly when applications converge all three.
AT&T’s Excited About WebRTC
WebRTC voice and video have been the more visible, “sexier” enablers of applications than are allowing developers to add embedded real time communications sessions into experiences and workflow. These two applications alone have the potential to completely disrupt the RTC industry which is why hundreds of millions of dollars are now pouring into more R&D for platforms and solutions after half a decade lead by the pioneers of WebRTC (and sibling ORTC) including Google (and Microsoft).
We’re already seeing voice and video moving rapidly into applications from contact centers to martech platforms, to web development and mobile app development for mobile web.
But where are the applications emerging for the data channel?
The AllSeen Alliance Illustration of the IoT
The Data Channel enables browsers to communicate directly, peer to peer, with low latency, through NATs (Network Address Translation). As far as we can tell without further testing, security for the data channel is the same as it is for voice and video.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is crying out for a cost-effective, scalable and reliable protocol for connecting “billions” of devices on the IoT. Have we been staring at the ideal data channel all along – and just now “connecting the dots?”
For the reference architecture, can we simply replace “browsers” with “devices” – or “smart things?”
At the intersection of the IoT and WebRTC, the initial opportunities may be largely about “rich” machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Given the underlying standards, WebRTC has built in features that we, at Kandy and GENBAND, believe can substantially fuel M2M connections: Peer-to-Peer connections, high volume of sessions (web interactions) and strong encryption. Sounds like a plan right? But how secure is secure, and how scalable is scalable? We have developers in our lab dedicated full time to working these things through to ensure a quality solution via our Kandy Platform-as-a-Service but we’re seeing some very interesting leading indicators.
We have also been swarmed by ecosystem partners who are interested not only in WebRTC for IoT but WebRTC for something we like to call “M2M2H.” This stands for Machine-to-Machine-Human, and can best be described through these metaphors:
Navigant’s View of the Connected Car of the Future
Like “OnStar” a connected car runs into a tree and the “IoT” connections in the car trigger an alert to a contact center where a human being immediately says “Are you okay – it appears you have been in an accident.” No response, and the contact center platform, which senses exactly where the vehicle is, places an automatic emergency call to the closest police department. Simple, logical, useful.
Aerosport armband for iPhone.
Take a connected heart monitor. An individual is out for a long run, and experiences a rapid heartrate and unusual body temperate increase. The monitor sends an alert to a contact center where medical experts can not only review the biometric data, but contact the wearer who has registered for the service (or has had her physician do so for her.) The expert sends a voice message to the physician and the wearer is informed help is on the way.
In a speciality store, sensors are placed discretely under luxury products. When three expensive watches, for example, are removed at one time from a shelf, the system alerts the security team and a video window is immediately opened up in the area so the security team has a visual. At the same time, a text message is sent to the guard at the entrance, notifying them to be on high alert for a potential theft.
These are only three examples of dozens of use cases we are actively developing.
Yes – the data channel is turning out to be, we believe, at least as powerful as the voice and video channels.
In addition to the real time features, WebRTC connections can be created as direct, encrypted connections between endpoints. With WebRTC, which operates over WiFi and is not restricted to expensive cellular networks, IoT endpoints – in the billions – will able to communicate with little effort. Since encryption is built into WebRTC, systems can include critical devices and endpoints while masking the data, when policy is set to provide the data and analytics only to approved users and systems.
On a less serious note, real time gaming is growing exponentially and has become the number one use of mobile devices for many parts of society in many regions, particularly in Asia. Another project in our lab is integrating real time voice and video communications with gaming – using WebRTC and all three channels.
Hunger Games interactive mobile video game promotion; source: Screen Media Daily
So why are so many companies joining the Kandy ecosystem and if WebRTC so simplifies connecting everything, including over the data channel, why do these companies need a Platform like Kandy?
It’s simple. Every major change in the real time communications industry has required “carrier grade” technology to really work, to really scale, and to really make people money. Sending data between two browsers or two smart things for communication, gaming, file transfer, multiparty video chat, and more can be complicated. It requires secure servers to relay data, and scale and redundancy for mission critical applications across multiple data centers. Where there is potential for high latency, risk happens – and this is why communications service providers have recognized a multi-billion revenue market.
They also recognize, as do the systems integrators, independent software vendors, web development and gaming companies that rather than build many disparate platforms, it’s faster and more efficient to leverage “the cloud” – and related platforms as a service and infrastructure as a service. We’re passionate while building our platforms about ensuring we are accounting for every detail, whether that is for RTCPeerConnection APIs, expertise in STUN, TURN, and signaling, and a deep understanding of how to participate in the new world with creative applications, innovations and solid, profitable business models.
We’re bullish on WebRTC and see with great clarity that the Data Channel could in fact be the key that will finally unlock the often mysterious potential of the IoT.