WebRTC Global Summit – Event Review

April 14, 2014


By Chris Vitek

Ken Wieland has a review of the WebRTC Global Summit  here.  He offers a good summary of the event from the mobile perspective.  No mention of Telefonica.  They have over 300 million subscribers and they purchased TockBox (WebRTC Start-up) over a year ago.  Here are some of the highlights:

Yet a prevailing feeling among technology experts attending the summit was that serious risk-taking was unavoidable. Mobile and fixed-line operators, provided they wanted to compete in the services space, would have no choice but to evolve their portfolio of communication services to rival internet players, even if it did hurt the top line in the process – a necessary sacrifice to remain “relevant” to customers.

Mark Windle, head of marketing at OpenCloud, suggested that many operators were too obsessed with “monetising this and monetising that” and that both a technology and cultural change was required. There are different ways to value companies rather than revenue growth, he argued, pointing to the $19 billion valuation placed on WhatsApp by Facebook.

Losing Control of the Media…Service

April 8, 2014


By Chris Vitek

Media services are among the least understood elements of IP-based communications, but they are the most important.  Change something on the media service and it affects all users.  There was a time when all media services were proprietary and centralized, but Skype and WebRTC are changing this.

Today media services are most commonly embedded in IP PBXs for audio communications and in multipoint control units (MCUs) for typical enterprise video communications.   Although these software are absolutely state of the art, their architecture can be traced back 135 years to the plug boards that were used to manually connect audio circuits for human communications.  Back then it was a financial necessity because it was the only way for Bell to monetize his new technology.  Paying for a connection was the paradigm and it has stuck to telecom architecture for all of these many years.

During the 90’s there was a great push to deliver media services that were based on software in order to reduce the cost and increase the flexibility of switching IP communications.  This approach to managing media was attractive and dangerous at the same time.  An example of this was Nortel’s Symposium contact center platform.  Yes, it was advanced.  It had skills-based routing and advanced reporting.  It was unique because calls could be anchored in the media plain. Moving calls between physical locations could be accomplished with a single virtual circuit that could be torn-down and setup again in the event that an agent became available at a different physical site.  This greatly reduced the quantity of tie-lines required between sites.  The benefit was lower cost and more flexibility; however, during these early days these media servers lacked the physical processor, memory and/or network throughput capacities to support the scale that electro-mechanical or digital technologies had previously achieved.  The result of this lack of scalability was Nortel’s loss of virtually every large contact center client to Lucent (now Ayaya) within 5 years.  The moral of this story is that messing with media services can be very rewarding but it can also be very disruptive.

Today, media services are again in the spot light.  The architecture for Skype and Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) do not require centralized media services.  They are peer-to-peer architectures.  So is SIP, but SIP was coopted to look and work like legacy systems because it was available before there was enough Internet adoption to create any momentum.  What happened next was a Balkanization of SIP that is so complex that it cannot be unwound.

Both Skype and WebRTC contemplate distributing the media services to the end-points.  Skype has proven the viability of this approach by racking up over 200 Billion minutes last year and growing at a rate of more than 44% annually.  There is no legacy-based architecture in telecom that can come close to these kinds of numbers.  WebRTC is newer and is taking a different approach by making its software available in a way that is more easily accessed by consumers and enterprises.

Both Skype and WebRTC can be used with proxies.  This means that user agents (end-point software) can be aggregated into something that looks like a centralized server.  Microsoft has kept tight control of this environment in order to monetize Skype by invoking the legacy architecture of centralization of media services.  Alternatively, WebRTC can also be proxied with any of a dozen or more manufacturers of session border controllers.  The difference is pay Microsoft or pay for an SBC in the cloud for the same capability. For enterprises WebRTC offers a lower cost and more flexible environment for building communications enabled mobile apps, using browsers instead of telephones, eliminating or reducing dependence on the PSTN, offering customer communications tools on their web site, integrating web site telephony with their PBXs, and offering their customer rich collaborative interfaces that never before were possible.

So, we in the telecom business are witnessing this disruption because the core is no longer the core.  Or, should I say, you can build your own core, if you like.  Further, 135 years hence, the economic model that started the telecom industry is being replicated by Microsoft and disintermediated by WebRTC.

There are many that argue that this un-necessarily creates complexity.   But given the advances in software development languages like JavaScript, the complexity is hidden from programmers.

There are others that claim the end-points cannot support more than 4 “Hollywood Squares” of video at the same time or more than 20 audio sessions at the same time.  This brings up the scalability issue that is so dangerous.  But, supporting 4 or less Hollywood Squares or less than 20 audio sessions is the largest part of the market.  For those that need more, there will be legacy alternatives, for the rest there will be lower-cost and unique new forms of interaction available on the Internet.

Google, Cisco, VP8, h.264 and WebRTC

March 26, 2014


By Chris Vitek

Last week at Enterprise Connect Rowan Trollope, GM Cisco Collaboration,  demonstrated WebEX embedded in a Chrome browser.  The significance of this is that it means that Google has agreed to embed Cisco’s implementation of the h.264 codec into Chrome.  Alternatively, this could have been a transcode of VP8 (WebRTC codec) to h.264; however, This would introduce enough latency to cause the “Godzilla movie” effect.  This was not observed and I doubt that Trollope would tolerate such a low quality approach.  Especially since he offered his h.264 binaries last year to the open-source community free of charge.  To date, Mozilla has announce the inclusion of Cisco’s h.264 codec in their browser; however, Google has not made any public statements.  Trollope’s demonstration with Rajen Sheth from Google by his side seems to indicate that Google is committed to using Cisco’s h.264 binaries to help break the log-jam at the IETF.  I look forward to a public announcement.

As background on the WebRTC approval process the following is a summary of the state of affairs at the IETF.  As the IETF continues its efforts to finalize the WebRTC standard they have yet to reach consensus on a “Mandatory to Implement” (MTI) video codec. Google has supported VP8 for the last two years as the best royalty-free alternative to the royalty-bearing h.264.  Google, Mozilla, Opera and Ericsson have all adopted the VP8 codec in their generally available browsers.  Microsoft has publicly stated that they will support the WebRTC standard once it is approved. Presumably by implementing VP8 in Internet Explorer.  Microsoft is also playing a game to create fear uncertainty and doubt by supporting Nokia’s (a Microsoft company) public assertions that they have intellectual property right (IPR) in VP8.  Apple is not tipping their hand, but the Ericsson browser works on iOS devices so the clock is ticking for them to make a decision.  Additionally, there are several software development kits that contemplate native operating systems implementations of WebRTC that support iOS, Android, Windows and OSX.  This approach reduces Microsoft’s and Apple’s reluctance to implement WebRTC in their browsers to background noise.

The corp issue for the IETF is that the standard needs an MTI video codec so that, at a minimum, developers will be able to test video interoperability between browsers or native OS implementations. Recently, the IETF has offered to implement h.261 as MTI for its lack of IPR issues and no consensus was reached.  Clearly, this moment has revealed the video codec issue as a red herring.  In other words, there are several IETF participants that are simply trying to slow the process.  My opinion, WebRTC works too well and they are scared of getting run over by rapid adoption.  An old friend of mine used to say “decision made out of fear are not good decisions.”  For those that are obstructing the process, this is not your finest day.

BTW, the audio codecs (iSAC, iLBC, G.711 and OPUS), Data Channel, Text and File Transfer work great and have the consensus backing of the IETF committee.  There are over 300 companies that have or are developing products with WebRTC. This includes nearly all of the market leaders in enterprise communications.

The next material step for video codecs in the WebRTC standard is the inclusion of VP9.  This is a codec that is capable of scalable video coding (SVC).  h.265 is also capable of SVC.  SVC offers the ability to reduce bandwidth, offer higher resolution capabilities and to dynamically adjust to bandwidth or display constraints.  It will also solve for the Nokia IPR issues.  VP9 is already embedded in Chrome in support of Youtube video presentation and will available for WebRTC implementation in 9-12 months.

At this point there are many production WebRTC implementations in use.  The financial sector has begun adoption on a broad basis.  There are several carriers that have commercially available solutions and there are many new-breed, cloud solutions that offer high value at low cost.   Integration with legacy systems based on h.264 was the vision of many legacy manufacturers when implementing WebRTC; however, this is a very limited market that is focused on internal enterprise communications and collaboration.  Those that have these platforms do not need WebRTC. They already have what they need.  The opportunity for WebRTC is for users outside of the corporate collaboration crowd because the employees that currently use collaboration tools are not the ones that will collaborate with the masses.  They are managers and VPs and directors and they will never directly engage customers or users or vendors so why would an enterprise care about integrating their legacy collaboration tools with WebRTC tools that are meant for the masses.  So, if an enterprise or carrier decides to implement WebRTC-based communications, then why do they care what codec it uses?


The demise of the Internet

March 19, 2014

By Chris Vitek

It is no secret that politicians and government dislike the transparency and open access to information that the Internet provides.  In the United States dislike has turned to inaction.   politically, the Obama administration has directed the government (the Commerce Department) not to renew its agreement with ICANN for the oversight of the Internet’s Root Directory.  L. Gordon Crovitz has an Opinion piece up at the WSJ here.

“In the past few years, Russia and China have used a U.N. agency called the International Telecommunication Union to challenge the open Internet. They have lobbied for the ITU to replace Washington as the Icann overseer. They want the ITU to outlaw anonymity on the Web (to make identifying dissidents easier) and to add a fee charged to providers when people gain access to the Web “internationally”—in effect, a tax on U.S.-based sites such as GoogleGOOG -0.62% and Facebook.FB -1.53% The unspoken aim is to discourage global Internet companies from giving everyone equal access.

The Obama administration was caught flat-footed at an ITU conference in 2012 stage-managed by authoritarian governments. Google organized an online campaign against the ITU, getting three million people to sign a petition saying that “a free and open world depends on a free and open web.” Former Obama aide Andrew McLaughlin proposed abolishing the ITU, calling it “the chosen vehicle for regimes for whom the free and open Internet is seen as an existential threat.” Congress unanimously opposed any U.N. control over the Internet.”

We have a year to work with.   It is up to us to fix this.  Start by contacting our Representative to Congress and Senators and letting then know what a big mistake this is.

Update 3/24/14

Gordon Corvitz has another srticle up at the WSJ here.  As I stated above it is up to Congress to fix this situation.

“a spokesman for the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said the agency reviewed this legal issue and concluded the administration can act without Congress but refused to share a copy of the legal analysis. Congress should ask for a copy and do its own analysis.

Congress also could tell the Commerce Department not to carry out its plan. In 2012, both the Senate and House passed a unanimous resolution to keep the Internet “free from government control.” That happened as the Obama administration was being outfoxed by Russia and China, which hijacked the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union to legitimize control over the Internet in their countries. Protecting the Internet may be the most bipartisan issue in Congress.”

Update 4/14/14

Gordon Crowvitz has another analysis here.  Sort of the latest from the Obama Administration and some opinions expressed at a Hudson Institute event by some key stakeholders.

Here are some highlights:

Less than a month after announcing its plan to abandon U.S. protection of the open Internet in 2015, the White House has stepped back from the abyss. Following objections by Bill Clinton, a warning letter from 35 Republican senators, and critical congressional hearings, the administration now says the change won’t happen for years, if ever.

“We can extend the contract for up to four years,” Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling told Congress last week, referring to the agreement under which the U.S. retains ultimate control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as Icann. If the administration makes good on that reassurance, it would punt the decision to 2019 and the next president.

Below are some thoughts from Fadi Chehade, CEO of ICANN and some other pertinent opinions:

In an interview, Mr. Chehade assured me that he understands why supporters of the open Internet want the U.S. to retain its oversight role, which keeps countries like Russia and China from meddling. “I’m worried, too,” he said. “There’s no question that governments like power and certain governments will always try to take control of the Internet, so we will have to be careful.”

The Commerce Department tasked Icann to come up with a plan to invite authoritarian governments to participate while still keeping the Internet open. This is likely impossible—and wholly unnecessary. Nongovernmental “multi-stakeholders,” such as engineers, networking companies and technology associations, now run the Internet smoothly. They are free to do so because the U.S. retains ultimate control over Internet domains, blocking authoritarian regimes from censoring or otherwise limiting the Internet outside their own countries.

The Obama administration proposal would have treated other governments as equal stakeholders, turning the concept of private-sector self-governance on its head. Robert McDowell, a former commissioner at the Federal Communication Commission, pointed out at the Hudson Institute event that “‘multi-stakeholder’ historically has meant no government,” not many governments.

For those that thought that the Internet was in the clear.  Here is a disturbing account of how the Obama Administration has already been outfoxed by governments that seek to oppress their people with censorship:

These are false assurances. Steve DelBianco of the NetChoice trade association gave this example in congressional testimony: Under Icann rules, a majority of governments can simply vote to end the current consensus approach and switch to majority voting. China and Iran are already lobbying for this change. Russia, China and other governments switched to majority voting to outfox the U.S. at a conference of the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency, in 2012. Mr. Sepulveda called that an “anomaly,” but the result was an 89-55 vote for a treaty giving U.N. legitimacy to governments cutting off the open Internet in their countries. This division of the Internet into open and closed networks goes into effect next year.

Communications as a Feature

February 26, 2014

The enterprise software business has 2,000 developers for every one enterprise telephony SIP programmer. That doesn’t bode well for legacy platforms.  The rest of the post is over at No Jitter.

Here is the link: http://www.nojitter.com/post/240166341/communications-as-a-feature


STC Changes its Name and Brand

February 25, 2014


The Society of Communications Technology Consultants International, Inc., (SCTC), has launched a rebranding campaign. This includes a name change, new organizational focus on consulting clients, with increased emphasis on new communications technologies.

OLD STATION, CA, FEBRUARY 25, 2014 – The Society of Communications Technology Consultants International, Inc., (SCTC), announced today that it has changed its name. Formerly the organization was named the Society of Telecommunications Consultants, Inc., (STC). This change is part of a rebranding campaign that focuses on increasing the SCTC’s visibility in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, and demonstrating the value that experienced, vendor-independent consultants bring to their clients. The name change was approved by the membership on December 20, 2013, and approved by the state of New York on January 31, 2014, where the SCTC is incorporated.

“In 2012, the SCTC influenced $225 million in information technology spending,” says Melissa Swartz, President of the SCTC. “The influence of SCTC consultants demonstrates that organizations value the involvement of unbiased, experienced consultants when assessing business requirements and new product acquisitions.” These changes follow a year of strategic planning, led by the board of directors including Swartz. This rebranding centers on the value the SCTC brings to clients, reducing the challenge of selecting a consultant by providing a vetted pool of experienced professionals. Key messages focus on the knowledge, experience, and vendor independence of SCTC consultants, providing confidence to clients that they are receiving knowledgeable, unbiased recommendations. SCTC consultants sign a “Code of Ethics” each year, renewing and reinforcing their independence from vendor ties. A new visual brand identity and website (www.sctcconsultants.org) are included in the rebranding effort. The new tagline – Experience Expertise Trust – communicates the key messages of the SCTC: the most experienced consultants in the industry, a powerful international network of experts in their field, who offer vendor independent recommendations guiding clients to their optimal ICT solutions.

About the SCTC:

The Society of Communications Technology Consultants International, Inc., (SCTC) is a non-profit organization offering information and communications technology answers through a professional network of experienced, thoroughly vetted, vendor independent consultants. Founded in 1976, the SCTC has a strict set of membership requirements, setting the standard in experience and expertise, ethics, and collaboration for consultants worldwide.

Society of Communications Technology Consultants International, Inc., is the owner of the marks SCTC, its associated LOGO, and numerous other marks. All other trademarks mentioned in this document are the property of their respective owners.


Cathy Cimaglia

Administrative Director

Society of Communications Technology Consultants International, Inc.

+1 800-782-7670 (Toll Free, USA & Canada)

+1 530-335-7313



Net Neutrality and the ITU

January 15, 2014

Net neutrality is back in the news.  Yesterday the Federal Appeals Court in Washington, DC struck down several FCC rules that the Obama administration promulgated to govern the domestic Internet.  The DC Circuit is well known for its liberal rulings.  My belief that less governance is better for the consumer has been affirmed by a Court that routinely supports Byzantine regulations.  This must be a shocker to the folks over at the FCC.  Later this year the ITU will take another swing at regulating the Internet.  Lets hope that they enjoy the same success as the FCC.

Robert McDowell, a former Commissioner at the FCC has a great summary of the situation here.  In 2012 the ITU gained some regulatory toe-holds that they will certainly attempt to expand in October. The FCC can lead by example here.  They can walk away and set the stage for less regulation or they can rewrite their regulation and provide political cover for more ITU governance that will result in less personal freedom and privacy.  McDowell sums up the ITU political atmosphere pretty well.

Pursuing an expanded U.S. government role into the Internet’s affairs foolishly plays into the hands of these pro-regulation regimes. At a minimum, new American rules provide them with political cover and the veneer of a rational argument to use for their own nefarious ends. Especially in light of current concerns about National Security Agency surveillance, it should be obvious that the problem of too much state interference with the Internet will not be cured by even more government meddling, either domestically or internationally. Now is a chance to turn back the tide of state encroachment.