Vonage Embraces Open Source WebRTC

By Sean Michael Kerner | Jul 12, 2013 | Print this Page
http://www.enterprisenetworkingplanet.com/unified_communications/vonage-embraces-open-source-webrtc.html

WebRTC is an emerging open source platform that delivers a Real-Time Communications (RTC) stack.

To date, much of the WebRTC discussion has revolved around its implementation in web browsers, including Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, but that's not the whole story. WebRTC also has relevance beyond the browser. It's now a key technology in VoIP vendor Vonage's mobile aspirations.

Baruch Sterman, VP of Technology Research at Vonage, told Enterprise Networking Planet that his company is now relying on WebRTC to power its mobile Vonage application.

Vonage didn't originally intend to use WebRTC. But, as Sterman noted, while Vonage was going through the process of figuring out licensing for a proprietary alternative, they began to explore WebRTC as an option. Today Vonage has millions of users running their WebRTC-powered app on both Apple iOS and Google Android devices.

While WebRTC is known as a browser stack, Sterman explained that there is another flavor, known as the WebRTC Native Stack.

"The native stack is the low-level source code for WebRTC, and that's where Vonage has been making its mark," Sterman said. "We have even contributed back to the open source WebRTC community some of the interesting innovations that we've built around the integration of some hardware capabilities."

Those hardware capabilities include some specific features that are available on IOS and Android powered phones. WebRTC as a native stack allows for voice and video communications on any platform onto which it's ported.

Deployment

From a Vonage deployment perspective, the way WebRTC works meant no big changes were required to its network infrastructure.

Sterman explained that Vonage uses WebRTC to encode and decode media streams, but the actual protocol that is used is RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol).

"Once you have all the signaling in place and establish the media path, as long as everyone is working with identical media codecs on both sides, you can have WebRTC on one side and then you can have any other media stack on the other side," Sterman said.

As such, Vonage mobile apps powered by WebRTC can communicate with Vonage boxes in the back-end.

Vonage still also relies on the SIP standard for establishing the call. SIP is the signalling protocol. It helps to find the other side of the connection and determines the codecs that will be used.

"Once the session is established, there is a real-time flow of data, and that is done over RTP," Sterman explained.

Open Source

One of the key challenges that Vonage had to tackle with WebRTC for mobile devices was making it smaller and more efficient. Part of that also involves leveraging whatever native capabilities are already present on the device.

Sterman stressed, however, that the open source nature of WebRTC was a key enabler for Vonage to overcome multiple challenges.

"We're very happy that everything is open source, so whenever we come up against an obstacle that is a problem, we can just go into the lowest level of code to find the problem," Sterman said. "That's a huge advantage when you have that capability, and it means you can solve problems."

In contrast, Sterman doesn't see the same kind of problem-solving opportunity with a proprietary media stack.

"If you take a proprietary closed stack, you will always be dependent on somebody else at one point or another, and that can be frustrating when you don't have your own destiny in your hands," Sterman said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.