Real time: WebRTC and ORTC get it together

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Aug 22, 2014

via Flickr © János Balázs (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © János Balázs (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For a while there it looked as though we were in for a classic standards struggle over WebRTC, the real-time Web protocol many believe is destined to play a large role in the next generation of communication services. Not only will it be available within standard browsers, but will be embedded in equipment, apps and even cloud services, thus loosening up the way real-time, interactive streaming of voice, video and data can be parlayed across the Web (see our interviews with WebRTC expert, Dean Bubley:  Part 1. Do telcos win or lose?; Part 2. Beyond the browser).

So WebRTC could be a disrupter, an observation that hadn’t escaped the notice of Microsoft (which  owns Skype) or the other ‘haves’ in the communications field - the big mobile telcos which, despite all the talk of OTT takeover, still control the majority of voice and messaging traffic and revenue. 

For the have-nots WebRTC is seen as a way in to provide next generation services, a possibility which also excites the big telcos looking for a fresh and agile way in to their ‘own’ communications markets. 

So when a technical feud broke out, many feared the worst. Was this an attempt to stall progress and bog the whole thing down? Was WebRTC going to be held hostage in a classic standards drama - Google and Mozilla, on one side and Microsoft on the other? 

But it now appears that there will be no jumping down technology holes. This week what many thought was going to be the rival specification, Object Real-Time Communications (ORTC) was published as a draft and it looks like it will be absorbed into WebRTC - thus the interoperable real time communications show will be kept on the road.

“There's been growing recognition that Microsoft actually "had a good point" when it first [advanced the idea] that certain aspects of WebRTC 1.0 aren't especially developer-friendly," says Bubley. "In particular, the use of SDP (Session Description Protocol (SDP))  to set up connections is now seen as too arcane for normal web/app developers - and explains why the bulk of interest to date has come from people who already have telecom/SIP/SDP expertise.”  

Bubley says he’s “pretty positive about ORTC” and wouldn’t describe its arrival as heralding a “schism” as some have feared.  “It’s more a reconciliation if anything,” he says. 

As things stand then, a merged ORTC/WebRTC looks likely to be fit for a broader developer community and that should therefore increase the number and range of new, real-time, interactive application and service ideas. Crisis averted. 

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