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Channel role emerges in WebRTC applications and services

Partners in the WebRTC market report growing opportunities to provide services and resell WebRTC-based products. Experts say the channel community needs more education on the emerging technology.

Channel companies could see an expanding role in WebRTC, an emerging communications technology that aims to simplify the task of creating multimedia applications.

WebRTC provides a set of building blocks that enable real-time communications -- including voice, video, text and screen sharing -- within supported browsers. Those elements include audio and video codecs, components for setting up peer-to-peer connections, and a Javascript API. Placing communication within the browser lets web and mobile app developers offer features such as video chat without requiring users to download a plug-in or launch a separate application like Skype or GoToMeeting. Call centers have surfaced as a focal point for this browser-based take on communications, with education and telemedicine among the other prime markets.

[WebRTC is] on the cusp of going mainstream. A year ago, people thought it was wizardry.
Richard Tworekmanaging consultant, WebRTC Strategies

Support for WebRTC appears to be growing. The open communications framework debuted in 2011, with Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera the supported browsers. In October, Microsoft said it has embarked on the development of the Object RTC (ORTC) API for WebRTC, a move that will put the Internet Explorer (IE) browser in the mix. Among the major network manufacturers, Cisco Systems Inc. in June acquired Assemblage, a startup offering collaboration applications based on WebRTC.

Broader industry backing may attract more channel partners to WebRTC. Meanwhile, companies already in the market are reporting an increase in customer demand.

Richard Tworek, managing consultant at WebRTC Strategies, a McKinney, Texas-based consulting firm, said demand for WebRTC services has picked up in recent months.

"It's on the cusp of going mainstream," Tworek said of WebRTC. "A year ago, people thought it was wizardry."

Channel role

Channel companies can carve out a WebRTC niche in consulting and advisory services, given the newness of the technology.

Along those lines, WebRTC Strategies offers customers a strategy assessment as a first step toward adoption. The assessment helps customers understand WebRTC's impact on their business processes, policies and technology infrastructures, according to the company. WebRTC Strategies also provides prototyping and implementation services, suggesting proof-of-concept pilots and assisting with vendor review and selection, for example.

"This is definitely a space where there is a lot of opportunity," Tworek said.

In real estate, for instance, a realtor usually points customers toward online listings and then, separately, discusses properties of interest over the phone. A realtor website with WebRTC capabilities, however, would let the realtor and customer view and discuss a portfolio of homes using built-in voice, video and screen-sharing capabilities, Tworek said.

Sajeel Hussain, chief marketing officer at CaféX Communications Inc., which markets WebRTC-based products, said the technology suits solution providers looking to pursue the software-and-service business model.

"They want to move away from plumbing and hardware and boxes," Hussain said. "WebRTC solutions really give providers the ability to break out of commodity hardware sales."

In particular, channel partners can wrap services around CaféX's WebRTC-based Live Assist technology, Hussain noted. Live Assist lets developers overlay a website or mobile application with real-time customer assistance. With Live Assist, customer service agents can interact with customers through voice and video calling, screen sharing and file sharing among other communications channels. CaféX also offers a software developer kit that lets developers add communications capabilities to business applications across iOS, Android and browser platforms. Hussain said partners can offer a number of services, including consulting, customization and deployment.

In addition, Hussain said that reseller partners will see additional pull-through when they team with CaféX, noting that the company's solutions sit on top of Cisco infrastructure. Cisco has an OEM relationship with CaféX, he said. But the pull-through effect also applies to other communications infrastructure providers, such as Avaya.

CaféX in October announced the addition of several companies to its reseller network, including World Wide Technology Inc., Presidio, eLoyalty (a TeleTech company), Shore Group, IVCi, LANcom Networks Group, Data Consult and ESolz.

"We saw such an amazing amount of interest in the last four to six months," Hussain said, noting that the company's resellers include gold- and platinum-level Cisco and Avaya partners.

Genband, which offers networking solutions for service providers and enterprises, is also building channel partnerships for its WebRTC-based products, including the recently released Kandy. The Frisco, Texas-based company launched Kandy, a platform-as-a-service architecture on which developers can build web and mobile communications applications, in September.

Brad Bush, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Genband, said Kandy uses WebRTC as an underlying technology. He said Genband is initially focusing on systems integrators and software vendors as the starting point for Kandy's channel strategy. The company's independent software vendor allies include SAP.

Other potential partners include enterprise resellers such as Arrow S3 and Black Box Network Services, which are evaluating and reviewing Kandy to see how the technology would fit in their portfolios. Genband is also in discussions with several communications service providers, Bush said.

Channel education

While WebRTC applications and services are making inroads in the channel, some industry executives suggested that the partner community needs more education on the technology. Dallas-based Voice4net has integrated WebRTC into most of its products, which include call center and interactive voice response products. But most of the company's resellers are still learning about WebRTC, according to Rick McFarland, CEO of Voice4net.

"We still have to tell [our resellers] what it stands for and how to make money at it," he said.

McFarland attributed the lack of channel understanding to the major manufacturers' failure to educate resellers about the importance and revenue-enhancing possibilities of WebRTC. Voice4net offers webinars, lunch-and-learn sessions and sales training among other programs to help close the knowledge gap. He said the company has had the best luck with grass-roots communication efforts, talking to a partner or small group of partners in a geographic area.

For other partners, Microsoft's lack of participation has been the main factor keeping them on the WebRTC sidelines. The company's pursuit of ORTC will likely increase interest among those resellers.

Rich Tehrani, CEO and group editor in chief at TMC, said there has been some hesitancy among developers that were concerned that corporations standardized on IE would be reluctant to adopt WebRTC. That issue goes away with Microsoft's endorsement, however.

WebRTC is becoming mainstream "now that Microsoft has thrown its hat in the ring," Tehrani said.

McFarland also cited Microsoft's impact on the WebRTC market's evolution. He said Microsoft's WebRTC cooperation will provide the final push that prompts most people in the channel to embrace the technology.

Microsoft's ORTC API for WebRTC aims to "make browser-based calls more convenient by removing the need to download a plugin," according to Microsoft's IEBlog. The blog describes the ORTC API as a convenience issue, envisioning the ability to "open IE and make a Skype call."

Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011.

Hussain said Microsoft support is a positive sign, but noted that it remains to be seen how open that company's WebRTC approach will prove. For example, Microsoft could focus strictly on Skype as the real-time communications application within IE.

"I hope they will make it available to everybody and not just Skype," Hussain said.

Next Steps

Read about the role of WebRTC in enterprises

Securing networks from WebRTC vulnerabilities

Why businesses need WebRTC gateways

Dig Deeper on Voice and unified communications

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Would providing WebRTC services be profitable for your company?
It doesn't look like it right now, thanks to training costs and necessary structural upgrades.It might make sense in the future but right now it is not cost effective.