The road to the promised land.
For more than 6 years, we have been working on and looking forward to a simpler way to build RTC (Real Time Communications) applications on the web. In order for this technology to truly show its value, the major browser vendors needed to show up.
Mobile, mobile, mobile.
Now that Apple has joined the party in earnest, does the technology have the coverage required in order for developers to make good use of WebRTC on mobile devices? Let’s find out.
Until now, in order for WebRTC to work on iOS, we were relegated to wrapping WebRTC code in Objective-C and Swift, in our native iOS apps. Basically, we had to take the Chrome code and build an app that was sent to the app store for approval and wait in line, like all the other chumps (yours truly included). Conversely, on Android we could run much of that same code from our desktop Chrome apps, on the Android device as well, within reason of course.
Now that Safari and Chrome are shipping compatible WebRTC on mobile, we get to reuse the same code, right!? Well, mostly, they are different code bases, after all.
A word about hardware acceleration.
If ubiquitous mobile video is to take off, the battery life of the device has to last more than the length of the 10 minute video call (ok, I am exaggerating a bit, but I think you get the point) and the performance needs to be at least adequate enough to distinguish facial features. My bar is set a little higher, baby steps for now.
Without h/w acceleration the CPU is likely working too hard to encode the local video and decode the inbound video + service the other processes required at the same time. That really means there needs to be hardware onboard the device dedicated to video coding. That in turn means H.264, since there are very few vendors that offer VP8 or VP9 h/w acceleration.
Question: Does this mean that mobile apps written with VP8 will not be able to deliver decent mobile video conferencing?
Answer: No, not at all, but they will likely not be as performant as those taking advantage of hardware acceleration.
Suffice to say that SVC (Scalable Video Coding) usage would be another reason why we need h/w acceleration, but that’s for another day.
Who’s using what?
The majority of desktop and mobile WebRTC apps written today, are using VP8 for video.
Since Apple and Microsoft both use H.264 and Google uses VP8 and H.264 (recently shipped Open H.264 – on the desktop and mobile). Also, many of the Enterprise RTC developers are already on that H.264 bandwagon.
Question: If Apple and Microsoft devices ship with H.264, what is the case with Google Chrome on desktops and android, are they preferencing VP8?
Answer: Chrome for desktop and android now have H.264 native. Many of the Android devices that ship today all have H.264 hardware acceleration onboard. In order to understand which units have H.264 and hardware acceleration, you can run use the Android APIs to pull a list of available codecs, but in the case of WebRTC, you will only get H.264 in Android WebRTC if there is a h/w encoder on the device.
Is H.264 the answer for WebRTC video?
Here is a recent test:
Host 1 – (before joining):
macOS Sierra, Macbook, Safari (Technology Preview 32)
Host 2 (after joining):
Android 7, Samsung 7, Chrome 55
Host 1 (after joining):
According to the Chrome Status page, Chrome for Android should have H.264. So why is the session barfing when trying to set up video? The logs do not lie…
Safari – offer:
Chrome on android – answer:
Err, huh? No H.264 in reply?
So, I updated to latest Chrome on android (58) and tried again…
… et voilà!!
Next topic, paying the man!
Shipping your product with H.264 enabled, means you may potentially need to deal with the MPEG-LA royalty police for H.264 royalties, but there are some grey areas.
In the case of Apple and Microsoft, where H.264 royalties are already being paid for by the parent vendor, the WebRTC developer is riding on the coattails of papa bear, at least in theory.
Cisco’s generous OpenH.264 offer means that those using this binary module, can do so at potentially no cost:
We will not pass on our MPEG-LA licensing costs for this module, and based on the current licensing environment, this will effectively make H.264 free for use on supported platforms.
Q: If I use the source code in my product, and then distribute that product on my own, will Cisco cover the MPEG LA licensing fees which I’d otherwise have to pay?
A: No. Cisco is only covering the licensing fees for its own binary module, and products or projects that utilize it must download it at the time the product or project is installed on the user’s computer or device. Cisco will not be liable for any licensing fees incurred by other parties.
That seems to mean (I am no lawyer) every developer shipping WebRTC apps supporting Open H.264 binary module, get a free ride. Those using some other binary, or shipping the above source code for that module, could be on the hook for those royalties. That said, since there are royalties being paid by parent vendors where devices are shipping H.264 anyways, developers may not get hassled regardless.
So what did we learn here?
- Apple has joined the party, now we have a full complement of browser vendors!
- If you want to leverage WebRTC video to deliver a ubiquitous mobile and desktop experience for your users, you should likely consider including both H.264 and VP8.
- VP8 is (still) free and powers most of the WebRTC video out there today.
- You can make use of the Open H.264 project and get a free H.264 ride, albeit baseline AVC.
- WebRTC on Android does not support software encoding of H.264, so unless there is local hardware acceleration, H.264 will not be in the offer.
- H.264 is not fully enabled (or buggy) in Chrome 55 (I was using it on Samsung S7 Edge (Android 7), but it does work with Chrome 58.
- WebRTC is not DOA!
- SDP still sucks and ORTC can’t come soon enough!!
As a side note, it would be interesting to see something like this open sourced; VP8 / H.264 conversion without transcoding, if only to service the existing desktop apps currently running VP8 <-> mobile H.264. It would likely overwhelm the mobile device, but it would be cool if it worked!
Disclaimer: The views expressed by me are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer.
People are going mobile. Businesses are going mobile. Only I am stuck in front of my desk, in my home office, all day long. But I am the exception.
In 2010, Frost & Sullivan surveyed 200 C-level executives and IT professionals across different industries that gave their opinion on various enterprise communications topics. Here follows a summary of key findings pertaining to enterprise mobility and FMC:
- Overall, 68 percent of the participants were aware of mobile extension solutions that extend PBX functionality and UC features to the mobile device.
- Half of the interviewed executives report that their organizations currently use mobile extensions, with usage being higher in the healthcare, IT and financial verticals.
- Businesses appear to be using enterprise FMC solutions widely at all levels of their organizations, and not limiting usage to senior management only.
- Furthermore, 49 percent of participants identified mobile/cellular phones as one of their primary devices used for business communications, whereas only 28 percent use primarily IP phones, and 34 percent choose softphones as their primary endpoints.
- A notable 61 percent of respondents using mobile extensions state that those are very important tools for the daily operations of their organization.
- Improved collaboration and productivity across geographically dispersed teams, cost reduction, and employee mobility enhancement are cited as the top three most important benefits of using enterprise FMC solutions.
The so-called “prosumers” have been using their personal mobile devices to conduct business for many years now. What is new today is the increased focus on extending the capabilities of corporate communications and collaboration solutions to these consumer mobile devices. The obvious benefits are cost savings (as mobile business calls go through the PBX) and increased productivity (through more ubiquitous access to PBX functionality, presence, IM, voicemail, conferencing and other applications). But challenges abound. How do you standardize mobile device support throughout the organization if everyone is allowed to bring in their favorite device using different OS and apps? And how do you handle security, management, and the various costs involved in extending IT support to a larger variety of endpoints?
My colleague Alaa Saayed just completed a study on world enterprise premises-based FMC solutions. The study focuses on “advanced” FMC solutions, defined as follows:
“Advanced enterprise FMC solutions are all FMC solutions that were created to work with advanced smartphones to go beyond the typical touch-tone interface and the access number prefixing of a basic PBX-to-mobile extension. Typically, an advanced FMC solution requires a “client application” or a mobile user interface to deliver call control and PBX features (such as single-number reach, single voicemail, corporate directory access, etc), as well as other advanced features and capabilities such as mobile and corporate IM/presence, unified messaging, conferencing, and dual-mode voice call handoff (manual or automatic) between networks.
The solutions usually consist of an advanced client software that sits on the mobile device and a mobility network element such as a server/controller/router/appliance/gateway that connects the corporate platform with the mobile client. If the network element physically sits in the enterprise network and connect to the company’s PBX, the solution is called a premises-based enterprise FMC solution. If, on the other hand, the appliance is located in the service provider network and FMC is offered as a network service, the solution becomes a hosted/network-based enterprise FMC solution.”
The study revealed that, in 2010, the overall worldwide enterprise FMC market reached 3.33 million FMC units shipped (counting only those installed or activated) – a 32.7 percent year-over-year growth. While this growth is significant, the actual growth levels were somewhat lower than what Frost & Sullivan had anticipated. Frost & Sullivan expects the compound annual growth rate of enterprise smartphone units shipped with an FMC solution to be around 53.0 percent over the forecast time period. In terms of advanced enterprise premises-based FMC solutions, on the other hand, software clients shipped in 2010 reached 909,011, a 51.0 percent year-over-year growth.
These types of clients make around 27.2 percent out of the newly activated FMC solutions in 2010 – a share that has considerably grown from previous years.
In his study, Alaa Saayed cautions enterprise customers and vendors as follows:
“Today, choices are so many and diverse that it is very difficult for an enterprise customer to distinguish what solution best fits its needs. In fact, over the last years, enterprise FMC solutions were partially eclipsed by a flood of other enterprise mobility solutions such as team spaces and other collaborative applications, enterprise social medial tools, and enterprise tablets with built-in mobility software clients – among others. It is hard to disagree that all these new emerging solutions enhanced the overall enterprise mobility portfolio, but it is also hard to deny that nobody knows if many of these products/applications will succeed, following the same growth patterns of their consumer counterparts.
What is, therefore, the negative outcome of this trend? On one hand, some businesses may deploy enterprise mobility tools that they will never use as expected. On the other hand, many telephony providers will invest time and effort in developing and promoting enterprise mobility applications and devices that may never reach their expected levels of adoption and revenue.
The truth is that while some solutions might succeed, others will simply remain a hype. Frost & Sullivan cautions that hype could result in chaos that may distract enterprises and enterprise mobility vendors from their initial objectives.
To avoid costly mistakes and future-proof their investments, businesses need to carefully evaluate the various available enterprise mobility solutions and deploy the ones that best address their current and future needs. In order to leverage the enthusiasm around enterprise mobility, vendors need to stay focused on enterprise mobility solutions that provide measurable benefits and help businesses to identify the most appropriate solutions for their specific needs and existing infrastructure.
The study will be published in February 2011. It provides further insight on market and technology trends, in-depth demand analysis, detailed competitor profiles and a market forecast in terms of units and revenues.
Other related research includes: Predictions for the Enterprise Tablet Market and North American Smartphones Market. You can also check out our free webinar archives: Applications Bring Subscribers; Revenue Brings Developers – Which Mobile Operating Systems Will Pay Out Big for Developers Through 2014? And also: Premium Mobile Enterprise Applications – What’s Working in North America?
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bill Vass, former CIO of Sun Microsystems, about some technology trends such as virtualization, cloud and mobility.
With more than 30 years of technical and IT management experience, Bill Vass is an industry leader in the field of information technology. Prior to its acquisition by Oracle in January 2010, Sun Microsystems Inc. was a global fortune 100 company with a 26-year history of providing networking computing infrastructure solutions. For 15 years, Sun had a highly flexible work policy that allowed 19,000 employees to work away from the office at least one day per week. Bill Vass and his team selected and implemented the technology to support this highly effective virtual organization.
Elka Popova (EP): Hi Bill. You have a tremendous amount of experience in deploying advanced technologies to support Sun Microsystems’ transition to a more flexible work environment. I would like to hear your perspective on future technology trends.
In view of some key demographic shifts – growth of the virtual organization, consumerization of the enterprise, mobility, etc., what technology trends do you think will shape the market in 2011?
Bill Vass (BV): I think SaaS is going to continue to grow. I think there will be a lot of challenges in integrating SaaS, though. Consumerization will continue to grow as consumer devices penetrate the workplace. I think that will drive organizations to virtual desktops. So the idea would be – we don’t buy you clothing to come to work; we don’t buy you a car to come to work; why do we buy you a PC? I think that is the way it is going to move; and you just choose anything you want; we don’t care; when you are ready to work, we will give you a virtual desktop. That way we will keep our corporate data safe in the corporate cloud; and you can work on any device you want – you can work on your iPhone, or your Android phone, or your iPad, or your Mac, or your Dell Ubuntu box, or your HP Windows box, we don’t care.
Virtual desktop and understanding that environment is going to grow significantly. What you see happening with SaaS is very interesting. I was at a CIO conference with Fortune 100 CIOs. I asked them “How many of you are using SaaS today?” And 60% of them raised their hand. And then I asked them “How many of you, CIOs, selected those SaaS apps?” And no one raised their hand. And the reason is – just like with consumerization, where people are using their own devices, business leaders and users are selecting their own applications.
Picture this scenario. The business leader goes to the CIO and says ”I need this CRM system.” And the CIO says “Well, there are probably 1,100 interfaces on our CRM system. We will have to run it in a SAS70 data center; we will have to go through Sarbanes-Oxley; we will have to buy these additional products and install them and integrate them, and so on. Give me $13 million and 18 months and I will have it for you.” And the guy rolls his eyes and goes back to his office.
But then the salesforce.com sales person comes in and says “I can give you CRM right now, just give me your credit card. It’s only $25 an employee!” And the business leader gives them a credit card, and next thing you know, he’s got 5,000 people on salesforce.com. And then the same thing happens in HR; so then the HR system is on Workday. And then it happens in all these other places.
But then you have to manually type all this stuff people typed in salesforce.com into the Workday program, and into the ERP system, and the Order Management system. And the next thing you know, the business ends up hiring this huge staff to do this – for instance, type a new sales person’s information into all the systems, because these things are not integrated. And then the business leaders go back to the CIO and say “Hey can you automate this for me, just like it used to be?” And the CIO scratches his head and says “Oh, God, there are still 1,100 interfaces; you didn’t make these go away; you didn’t make the Sarbanes-Oxley requirement go away; you didn’t make the integration testing go away.”
I think there is going to be this time of chaos – SaaS chaos and revelation; immense growth of SaaS and immense growth of consumerization, and then a rationalization to virtual desktops, and a managed SaaS environment with integrations for SaaS.
You will also see lots and lots of companies putting up what I call private clouds, which is nothing more than continuing to do desktop virtualization and server virtualization, but with more automated provisioning.
I think you will see people waking up about closed wireless systems, and wondering why they are running these closed wireless systems, while they already have environments where people are working on unsecured wireless systems. And they will get the idea of having a wireless provider run it for them instead of them trying to run it themselves.
I think you will see pico cells being installed and replacing the desk phone altogether. Maybe you will see some more complicated phones at the receptionist’s desk, but for everybody else, who already has a cell phone, you will see pico cells which will improve reception and, now that you are not paying for wireless minutes while in their corporate buildings, you can also do it more economically than you did before. It becomes a very compelling option to give everyone a cell phone. And then you have the added advantage of letting everyone use their device, as long as you have a Web service environment, virtual desktop, and you can deliver an edge mail service.
You will start to see networks being turned inside out. But you will also see tons of companies doing it the old-fashioned way. There are companies still using mainframes, right? It’s not going to change overnight. You will have banks and governments who are very slow to change. And for good reasons around security and all those other things. But the real dichotomy you will run into is the competition between virtual enterprises and physical enterprises. It’s going to be staggering over the next few years.
In the end, the virtual enterprises will be so fast and flexible, and they will be able to run competitive rings around the “old fashioned” companies. Not only will the virtual enterprises be more fast and flexible, they will have a much lower overhead of operation than the traditional way of providing IT services in big companies. They will be able to expand and contract faster, get into new markets faster, and get the best talent from all over the world, without geographic limits.
EP: Bill, how strongly do you believe in cloud architectures? Do you think businesses will increasingly leverage external clouds? Which applications do you believe are best suited for the cloud?
BV: A lot of companies will be deploying private clouds, mostly virtualization with automated provisioning. However, it’s important to note that these concepts are not new, IBM invented virtualization back in the late 60s and what we call cloud computing in the early 70s. What we are seeing is just another cycle of centralization from decentralization but now on top of more open platforms.
The thing that will slow the movement to public and even private clouds will be the normal politics between different parts within large companies, but newer / smaller companies will not have these issues.
If I started a company today, I wouldn’t install any servers, I wouldn’t install any phone systems, I wouldn’t install any wireless systems. I would go to 802.11 service provider and have them run wireless APs in my office. I will have pico cells installed on the wireless network and give everyone cell phones. I would go to Workday for my HR, and salesforce.com for CRM, and I’d build an IT environment that costs maybe about $2K a year per employee. The old-fashioned way, it cost about $17K a year per employee (business systems, plus network and hardware, and data-centers). So you will have a company with an overhead of $2K a year per employee competing with a company that has an overhead of $17K a year per employee. You have a company that can double its size in a day because of its virtual environment; it doesn’t have offices. And then you have a company that has this real-estate portfolio that’s slow to change. You are going to start to see these battles.
And the other thing that you are going to start to see is anxiety among the IT organizations about their jobs, and their place among all this. In a virtual company, the CIO is the same person who does real estate and who does purchasing. That’s a scary thing for CIOs; that’s a scary thing for the whole environment. That is also going to slow change and the adoption in the big companies.
The virtual companies will put everything in the cloud. They don’t have a legacy. Companies with a legacy will try to gradually move everything in the cloud, except their ERP systems. Mail, calendar, that will go faster – nobody is going to run those on the premises, that’s the dumbest thing in the world. Your web sites – why would you run that; just go to Amazon and have them run them for you.
I think desktop virtualization is going to go to the cloud; but most companies are going to run this internally, at first. I think you are going to see custom apps stay inside the premises, but commercial apps move to a more SaaS environments. I think the easiest stuff to move is the stuff that you don’t have to deal with Sarbanes-Oxley about. There are companies that legitimately have custom requirements, and companies that legitimately have security requirements that will prevent them from moving to SaaS. Those would be banks and governments, and other similar organizations. But even they should be delineating what they can take advantage of in the cloud. But they should also be careful about what they put in the cloud and make sure they don’t get locked in with a SaaS provider, and have an exit clause in contracts, and make sure they understand the SLAs properly.
EP: How about voice, Bill, corporate telephony? When will it get moved to SaaS on a large scale?
You know, the way I see things going, people would just put pico cells in their offices and use mobile phones. I think VoIP, beyond using it for Skype or something like that, might start to become one of those things where you ask yourself “Why did we even bother to develop something like that? We all have cell phones any way.” Why would you go and put in a bunch of Cisco VoIP phones in your company if you all have cell phones? What if you could reduce the cost and improve the quality by just putting in a bunch of pico cells?
EP: I think one big question on many customer and vendor minds is whether all-in-one solutions will eventually become more dominant. Currently, most businesses deploy best-of-breed architectures and this approach has both its advantages and disadvantages. Some vendors are making concerted efforts to become the one-stop shop for their customers’ communications needs. Where do you see the potential for this approach, especially in view of the SaaS and mobility trends you just talked about?
That’s what I referred to earlier as the chaos of SaaS that’s coming. What I described about the business users going and selecting SaaS on their own, outside of the organization, is going to continue and they will do it on the principle of best of breed. And then this giant chaos is going to occur, maybe 4 or 5 years from now, when we try to figure out how to integrate all the SaaS apps together into a best-of-breed environment.
The trouble with the all-in-one systems – old companies that have all-in-one systems are going to resist moving to SaaS. New companies, that don’t have anything, are going to move to SaaS right away.
I don’t think that any single SaaS provider is qualified to provide everything to a company. Certainly it’s simpler to get everything from the same company; but everyone who has had the experience knows how unpleasant it is when you are negotiating your next year’s support costs and there is no competition.
EP: When do you believe IT and telecom will fully merge – technologically, organizationally and in all other related aspects?
BV: One of the areas where I worked with Mitel a lot was this combination of the desktop and the phone. The challenge is that those two groups – the people who manage the desktop and the people who manage the phone – don’t talk to each other. And they are both threatened by each other. It is a people problem, not a technology problem. I think it is still going to be a long time before they merge, because they are two different camps internally and two different sets of vendors. I think what will cause them to merge is the younger generation coming in. They are already using Skype on their desktop, they are used to SIP-compliant VoIP on a desktop, and used to working on a cell phone. And those are the things that will drive the change; I don’t think organizations on their own are going to change.
EP: Bill, thank you very much for your insights. I think many CIOs as well as vendors and SaaS providers will appreciate your perspective on technology evolution.
With the growing hype around FMC and the continued integration of mobile phones with corporate communication networks, one would think that onsite mobility solutions are becoming an extinct species. I, personally, don’t think so. Single-mode VoWLAN and DECT devices provide productivity-enhancing mobility to individuals that do not fit the profile of potential smartphone users, and, therefore, do not compete with mobile phones for the exact same opportunity.
In the carpeted office, we expect professionals to increasingly use mobile phones connected to corporate PBX systems leveraging advanced UC clients. Such individuals are most likely users of cell phones subsidized by the company as they are expected to be able to make or receive calls anywhere, any time, in order to better serve customers, partners or internal stakeholders. Those are typically sales or marketing people or top executives. Beyond the carpeted office, maybe doctors, real-estate brokers, lawyers, technical support, and a few other professions requiring immediate and around-the-clock contact represent possible target customers for FMC solutions providing corporate communication applications on mobile devices.
Onsite mobility solutions, on the other hand, will continue to provide valuable capabilities to verticals where individuals need to communicate efficiently while on the premises, but do not need to be available for business purposes after working hours. Healthcare, retail and manufacturing continue to account for the majority of VoWLAN implementations (41%, 13% and 7%, respectively, of 2008 new users) with hospitality, education and government offering some growing opportunities. The carpeted office accounted for about 19% of all VoWLAN single-mode new users in 2008. DECT has been more successful in the carpeted office with over 40% of new users in 2008 being in this market segment.
Frost & Sullivan recently published a study, authored by my colleague Alaa Saayed, that provides an in-depth analysis of this market space. Here follows a summary of the findings:
As in the case of many other technology markets, the world enterprise DECT and VoWLAN single-mode phone market has been considerably impacted by the economic crisis. With market growth rates already showing some signs of deceleration in 2008, economic conditions in 2009 seem to be presenting even greater challenges as business customers seek to cut costs by extending the life of their existing wireless devices, curtail investment in new technologies and select the product or vendor based on pricing rather than strategic value.
Moreover, DECT and VoWLAN single-mode technologies have started to feel the pressures of other types of carpeted-office mobile devices, such as advanced smartphones with built-in enterprise FMC solutions, that, in some cases, present a compelling value proposition to IT departments seeking to provide employees with a single device offering multiple capabilities.
Despite this challenging landscape, the world enterprise DECT and VoWLAN single-mode market is expected to gradually return to its healthy growth rates in 2011 – as more vertical industries across the world recognize the various benefits and capabilities granted by these types of on-site mobility solutions. Moreover, the potential short-term slowdown in this market may be attenuated by the fact that enterprise FMC solutions are still viewed as very nascent technologies, and enterprises wishing to avoid any possible hurdles would, in most cases, prefer the reliability of DECT devices or the maturity of single-mode handsets. It should be noted, however, that any growth may be much slower than what it could have been in a healthier economy.
In terms of handset evolution, many of the major DECT phone manufacturers have launched new advanced DECT handsets into the market. Some examples include Aastra’s new series of next-generation SIP DECT handsets (the 610d entry-level handset, the 620d business version handset, and the 630d industrial handset), Ascom’s new generation d41 and d62 IP DECT handsets and NEC-Philips’s I755 phone and advanced M155 watch phone.
On the other hand, some of the technological advancements that new DECT solutions have introduced to the market include advanced messaging and alarming systems, centralized management capabilities, location detection capabilities and central directory and presence information. Today many DECT market participants affirm that the new capabilities offered by DECT technologies equal or even surpass those offered by VoWLAN single-mode devices. Cat-iq is said to further increase the value proposition of future enterprise DECT in terms of better voice quality, Web access to applications, and lower power consumption.
In terms of VoWLAN single-mode market evolution, most of the basic VoWLAN challenges, such as reliability, voice quality and security, have been resolved through continuous improvements and advancements in handset capabilities, adoption of wireless standards, and partnerships among device vendors, IP telephony providers and WLAN infrastructure companies.
New handsets capabilities include enhanced interfaces, additional software functions, new form factors (smartphone looking devices), improved device durability, and integration with advanced messaging, push-to-talk, and location-based features and applications – among others. Evolving wireless standards that are either being implemented or considered for future implementation include 802.11n, 802.11r, 802.11e and WPA2 security certifications. Finally, the market has witnessed the partnership of two of the major VoWLAN single-mode participants: Motorola and Vocera – that is expected to further increase the adoption and implementation of VoWLAN single-mode devices in the healthcare and retail industry.