While the wireless operators were busy fearing Skype cannibalizing their voice minutes, Skype was fighting off an enemy of its own -- WebRTC. That's changing today, however, as the Microsoft voice-over-IP (VoIP) division says it will support its "frenemy" in Internet Explorer.
WebRTC is an open-source protocol that enables peer-to-peer real-time communications from any supported web browser. One of the most oft-cited reasons for the three-year-old technology's slow adoption in the industry has been the lack of ubiquitous support. Firefox and Chrome have been long-time supporters, but Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Internet Explorer and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s Safari have stayed on the sidelines for fear it would compete with their own telephony services. (See WebRTC: A Double-Edged Sword for Telcos.)
That's starting to change, as Internet Explorer senior program manager Shijun Sun writes in a blog post Monday that Microsoft is developing the Object Real-Time Communications (ORTC) API for WebRTC, which will remove the need for a plug-in on the Internet Explorer browser. The company's Skype division is leading the charge, in recognition that it can't beat the standard, so it might as well join it.
In fact, Skype has always seen the writing on the wall, as Neil Ward, general manager of global business operations at Skype, last year called it a "welcome innovation" and said that it would help drive partnerships for Microsoft. However, it has taken a while for Microsoft to actually welcome the innovation into the fold, and now the next step will be to see what partnerships arise from it. (See MW13: Skype Waits for Operators to Woo It.)
Sun writes that Skype is "working closely with the web community to improve other existing standards for richer video interoperability, for example, features to adapt to changing bandwidth conditions and more." He also says that Microsoft will ensure interoperability with web browsers and SIP-based VoIP endpoints, PSTNs and teleconferencing systems. (See WebRTC & the Rise of the WebCo.)
It sounds like he sees room for partnerships with wireless service providers, which badly want in on the WebRTC action and can provide transport to ensure the quality and security of any browser-based call. But they, too, will have to be willing to partner smartly with over-the-top guys, including Skype, which they've proven resistant to do in the past.
Either way, Internet Explorer support is positive momentum for WebRTC, and represents an important roadblock removed on the path to ubiquitous browser-based data sharing, voice and video calling.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading