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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Updated WebRTC forecasts + new analysis of browser vs. non-browser uptake

I saw someone on Twitter post the other day that we are currently at "Peak Telco Conference". Last week & next week have an extraordinary number of clashing events, around the world. One interesting thing I'm noticing is how many seem to be adding in a session or couple of presenters on WebRTC, which is fast becoming the "topic du jour" across telecoms overall.

Unfortunately, these clashes mean I won't be with my familiar crew at the WebRTC Conference in Santa Clara, for their 3rd event, although I'll be watching the Twitter feed with avid interest! Instead I am at the ITU World & TADS Summit conferences in Bangkok in Thailand. 

I'm doing a workshop at ITU on Future of Voice (notably WebRTC & Hypervoice) along with regular conspirator Martin Geddes, as well as moderating what should be a lively panel on Telcos vs. OTT, in front of an audience of telecoms ministers & regulators. Friend Andy Abramson is on the panel, and is threatening to be even more disruptive then me.

At TADS, I'm doing a session on WebRTC (unsurprisingly), and then joining a panel of luminaries (including Martin again) about the Future of Voice.

So, in order to keep afloat in the inevitable media storm about WebRTC and telecoms over the next week, I thought I'd put out a quantitative blog post, updating some headline numbers and drilling down on how the WebRTC marketplace may evolve over the next few years. The figures come from the most recent update of my WebRTC research - subscribers got their 30 pages of new analysis about a month ago. (I know that quite a lot of people use my already in their presentations & press releases - feel free to ping me if you need updates).

  • Overall device support for WebRTC at end-2016 now predicted at 4.2bn, up from 3.9bn in previous forecasts
  • Addition of new category of devices (beyond PCs, smartphones & tablets) to account for embedded-WebRTC products such as TV dongles, in-vehicle systems, M2M etc
  • Active individual user-base of 1.6bn people, with around an average of 2 devices each, using WebRTC by end-2016. This equates to roughly 50% of the expected Internet user base at that time.
  • Over 3bn devices will support the use of WebRTC outside the browser by end-2016. This is a critical understanding, as it fundamentally alters the way the technology will be perceived.
  • WebRTC is already live in a variety of commercial use-cases, ranging from contact centres to online interviews.
  • Sudden adoption of WebRTC by a major OTT player such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook could lead to a rapid (almost overnight) acceleration of adoption beyond the forecasts. Thus far, we haven't seen this happen, but it could be a major catalyst, especially in conjunction with non-browser mobile WebRTC (see below). A "background" use of realtime data-streaming (eg for CDNs) could do the same, especially if hooked into one or more of the major browsers without user intervention.


Various new services are employing WebRTC "in spirit" even if the technology is not 100% identical to the (proposed) standards. This doesn't matter in many ways - innovations like Amazon Mayday (customer support) or Google Helpouts (expert interview platform), point to the underlying democratisation of voice and video outside the traditional "phone call" model. In many ways the strict technology enablers are irrelevant except academically - the bottom line is more forms of communication, developed more easily and cheaply by web, corporate, mobile & telco app developers.

Perhaps the most important output of the new analysis is this: overall from late-2015 onwards, the number of non-browser WebRTC-supporting devices will grow above 50% of the total across all device categories (ie including PCs). The majority will have both access mechanisms. For smartphones, browsers will not be the main way that users discover and use WebRTC.


It is important to explain what "non-browser WebRTC" consists of, as it is only really starting to be discussed now. There is growing evidence that WebRTC is moving (on mobile) from browser towards app implementations, either though:


  •  “Hardcore” development by specialists, directly using the RTCWeb and so-called "RAI2.0" stack of protocols and codecs which underpin WebRTC, built directly into apps. The forecasts include use of the media engine & firewall traversal & encryption components, even where there the “official” WebRTC Javascript APIs aren’t used. An early example is Vonage's mobile app, which incorporates a lot of WebRTC's underlying nuts & bolts.
  • Use of 3rd-party client APIs and SDKs, which give a more rounded and accessible set of capabilities to developers than “raw” WebRTC JS APIs, especially when applied to standalone apps. Examples here include Tokbox, Crocodile, Twilio, Tropo and many others. There may well be extra server-side APIs used for various functions as well. 
  • As yet, we haven’t seen WebRTC APIs appear directly in device OS’s, although there are rumours that Android may soon start to support them, while Firefox OS is clearly on a similar trajectory. Disruptive Analysis expects this model of WebRTC to become a reality over the next 1-2 years - and we may even see Apple joining in at some point. (Sidenote: Facetime appears to use a lot of the same underlying technologies as WebRTC)
  • Devices such as Google Chromecast do not have screens, and therefore do not have normal browsers. They may still enable some form of WebRTC capability (even if just data-streaming) however. 
Overall, these trends have much more impact on the WebRTC market than the wrangling over codecs, or even the offer-answer/SDP debate. What is happening is that there is now sufficient critical mass of effective, open-source or commercial enablers, that WebRTC or WebRTC-like development is taking on a life of its own. If the official, browser-based standard still faces a lot of arguments..... well, the dirty secret is that it doesn't matter, unless you're someone form whom native apps vs. web is a religious argument you feel evangelical about.

If you would like to get access to the new forecasts, and indeed the original Disruptive Analysis WebRTC report, details about purchase are available on this page. (Note: my travel schedule may mean it takes slightly longer to get content out to customers).

I'll also be at the December WebRTC event in Paris, so I hope to catch up with everyone there.

4 comments:

Iago Soto Mata said...

See you in Paris !

Lawrence Byrd said...

This is awesome and everybody should read this. People keep being surprised that mobile apps will greatly exceed browsers once developers get in gear. That is - WebRTC in itself does not really change the market dynamics of browser vs app although it is certainly part of a push, along with many other HTML5 capabilities, by browser vendors to make them richer and more likely delivery platforms.

Dean Bubley said...

Thanks for your comments Lawrence & Iago!

Jari Ala-Ruona said...

It's about developer economics. Devs prefer HTML5 given the opportunity. A quick search on one of the freelancer sites gave 100k html5 devs vs. 10k objective c devs. In developer economics 52% use html5 today. http://www.developereconomics.com/report/q3-2013-state-of-mobile-developer-mindshare/

As soon as Phonegap/Cordova adds WebRTC support pretty much majority of "cross platform" developers can do WebRTC apps with HTML5.