AT&T First US Carrier in Hype

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AT&T hosted its Developer Summit just before CES, so one might think that any news would get buried. No such luck – “AT&T First US Carrier to Support WebRTC” is everywhere. Impressive at least from a publicity point of view.

The press release states:

  • The WebRTC standard, which is already enabled on more than a billion browsers, allows voice and video calling between browsers without the need to install any software or plugins.
  • The AT&T Enhanced WebRTC API is now available in an open beta program and offers several enhancements to the basic WebRTC standard.
  • Developers can participate in the public beta program of the AT&T Enhanced WebRTC API at…

Kudos are in order except that there is no such thing as a WebRTC standard (yet). AT&T not only ratified the proposed standard, but “enhanced” it with hooks into their network services. Additionally, the released API is a beta program. I don’t think beta qualifies for First to Support.

Yes, a bit picky, but I might suggest a good strategy involves partnering with a provider that understands the basics. But then again, the point of a press release is publicity and clearly AT&T succeeded.

AT&T and many other carriers are building dev programs because carriers too want developers to build applications that utilize their infrastructure. WebRTC is or at least will soon be the next big thing so it is a reasonable strategy. AT&T customers that want to build an application that specifically utilizes AT&T network services will no doubt be very excited about building applications that can leverage a portion of the web browsers on the Internet.

The primary benefit of WebRTC really involves the elimination of a client or plug-in. It’s a very powerful concept that truly will change how we communicate – eventually. WebRTC still needs to become widespread, reliable, and consistently supported. Until then it is mostly useful in controlled environments such as an internal application. Though controlled environments don’t usually have problems with plugins or clients.

WebRTC made significant progress in Q4/14 and a ratified standard is likely soon. Once that happens, there’s still significant work to do. For example, support for both H.264 and VP8 video codecs are expected to be part of the ratified standard and only Mozilla Firefox currently supports both. Compliant upgrades will need to be created and deployed in all major browsers which can take years.

But that’s no reason to wait. There is tremendous and exciting innovation occurring around WebRTC, and it’s prudent to be dabbling in it now. AT&T may be the “first” US carrier, but there’s lots of great providers, products, and applications already available – and many more coming.

Congratulations to AT&T. It’s nice to see a major carrier position itself so progressively.

Dave Michels