WebRTC: A Business Communications Game-Changer

Note: This is a transcription of a March 24, 2022 Telecom Reseller podcast. It has been edited for brevity, clarity and readability. Vodia thanks Telecom Reseller publisher Doug Green for hosting the podcast.

You’re using WebRTC (“Real Time Communications”) every day, on your laptop and on your smartphone – it’s what makes voice and video available through your browser. In this podcast, Christian Stredicke, CEO of Vodia, a cloud phone system company, talks about how Vodia is working to use WebRTC to create new communications environments for PBX users. WebRTC eliminates the interoperability issues that have long plagued the VoIP industry, and it’s based on HTTP, which means best network protection currently available, particularly in light of the DDoS attacks during the last quarter of 2021.

“Over the ten, even twenty years, I cannot imagine anything replacing WebRTC,” Christian says. The podcast also discusses the relevance of desktop phones and SIP trunks, how the team at Vodia has found a way to route calls from WebRTC into mailboxes or an IVR, enabling communications between browsers and servers, between browsers and desktop phones, and between browsers and SIP trunks. “I think we’ve achieved ‘choice of device,’” Christian says, “which offers so many possibilities to businesses. This is something unique in the industry, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Doug Green, Publisher of Telecom Reseller (DG): Christian, thank you for joining me today.

Christian Stredicke, CEO of Vodia (CS): No problem, thank you.

DG: Well, this is an exciting podcast. We’re going to get caught up with Vodia, see what’s going on at Vodia, but we’re going to dive deeply into how Vodia is using many of the tools available in the telecommunications market to deliver a rich set of solution to users that are really changing the way people work, and operate, and have their businesses communicate with the outside world. We’re going to be diving into that in just a minute, but first of all, Christian, what is Vodia?

CS: At Vodia we’re making software, phone systems, for business communications, and the apps that make using them easy and effective, and today more than that.

DG: We talk about phone systems in the historical context of having some sort of set up that allows people to make phone calls and to receive phone calls. But let’s focus a little bit on the  ‘more than that.’ What do you mean when you say there’s more to it than that?

CS: The core is that A can talk to B, but there’s a lot more. At the end of the day we want to enable companies to interact with customers. This doesn’t mean a specific person, we want groups to answer calls; when you don’t want to talk to a specific person, you want to talk to a function, this means calls need to be routed to the right person. And we need to have accountability, we need to know who worked, for how long, what time, reporting about it…But there’s a lot of stuff around this data which has tremendous value – it’s kind of a necessity for a company to have this kind of information. There’s a lot more than just the basic call.

DG: Early on Vodia saw the benefit of a major technological breakthrough known as WebRTC.

CS: The browser has already killed a lot of applications. In the ‘90s we probably had CRM systems writing specifically for operating systems, but over the years it’s all changed because of the browser. A lot of business software has been made available exclusively in the browser, and real-time communications were kind of lagging behind. WebRTC is a game-changer because it makes voice and video available through the browser on practically every platform that runs a browser. So yes, it’s a total game-changer compared to what we had before. At Vodia we’re trying to use this and essentially translate the technology we’ve had so far into a new environment and make this available to our end users.

DG: WebRTC stands for “Web Real Time Communications,” but what does this actually mean?

CS: “Real Time” means that delay is critical, so when two people are talking the roundtrip time for a voice packet is very important for the user experience. If you’re using other technologies, there’s a one or two second delay for conversation. WebRTC makes it so this delay is as short as possible, so the user experience is really good. This is the main purpose of that API.

DG: WebRTC is probably over a decade old. Why is it so relevant, and why does it remain relevant?

CS: First of all, browsers are everywhere – anybody who’s logged into a browser can potentially use WebRTC, and there are more and more applications coming up. Not only telephone systems, it’s social networks – they have started heavily using WebRTC, so my kids are talking over WebRTC and they don’t even know it. They don’t care how it works, it just works! It’s just like a huge community, there’s a huge amount of users who are in front of the screen, in front of the browser, and this just opens up the possibility for people to talk to each other, and this is something we’ve never seen before – it’s going to have a massive impact on the way we communicate. And it’s a great thing that we only have one standard, right? It’s fantastic that all of the browser manufacturers really agree to that standard. If you’re using browser type A and browser type B they really work well together, so we don’t have to worry about interoperability, which was always something that haunted us in the VoIP industry, that device A didn’t really work with device B. But with the browsers, what’s happening now is, no question it’s going to work. There are no problems like, ‘this manufacturer doesn’t work with that manufacturer,’ that’s all gone now, that’s the beauty of it. It’s a really solid standard, and this problem has really, really been solved.

DG: I have to ask – I’m going to channel our younger readers for a moment – why not just use our smartphones?

CS: At the end of the day every smartphone has a mobile browser that supports WebRTC. And the way you make apps today is largely that you write the web page, then you publish that page in the form of an app, so the app is, essentially, a website running inside the app. There are a lot of apps right now being shipped with WebRTC inside them. Users have no idea, but they don’t have to care because it just works and everybody’s happy. And the developers are happy as well because they can save a lot of work and a lot of time for developing that kind of stuff over and over again, they can just use it.

DG: So, with this shift and, essentially, like you said…a lot of people through this pandemic and in other situations have been using WebRTC without even knowing they’re using it. One of the impacts is, people are saying, ‘now it seems like I’m available for work around the clock’ – there’s no delineation between ‘work’ and ‘not-work.’

CS: Technically that’s all possible now, so we can work 24/7. What we’ve seen is surprising (I was surprised), people are using their browser for the PBX, and the answer is very simple, because they know, when they close that browser tab, they’re offline. Nobody can call them, and this was a very ‘a-ha!’ moment for us, in terms of user acceptance, that total control over when they’re available and when they’re not. You’re talking about work-life balance, so essentially in the morning they log in, and then they can receive calls and make calls via the PBX, but in the evening when they close that browser window; it’s 100 percent clear they’re not getting interrupted any more, and this is quite valuable and important. This is a must-have if you want to roll out a company today, that you must kind of guarantee that people are not getting into this 24/7 mode. We have also done this for the apps as well, because if you’re using WebRTC on a mobile phone, there’s no simple way of just closing your tab, because that app is running 24/7. That’s why on the server side we said, ‘okay, these are the working hours,’ and employees only receive calls during working hours – they can be sure they’re not getting calls at 5 a.m. or on the weekend, at these inconvenient times, and this is very, very important.

DG: What about VoIP phones? Do they still have relevance?

CS: The problem with the VoIP phones is just about none of them support WebRTC, they’re still on the SIP protocol. So it’s great to be a technology visionary and say, ‘hey, let’s throw all that stuff away, we’ve got new stuff,’ but practically this does not work. There is a massive number of devices out there, and they need to be integrated into the WebRTC environment. And now we’re talking about gateway, so we need a gateway from the old technology to the new technology; this is another must-have for any business communications system, that we can integrate desktop phones and other devices and other services. For example, ATAs are still around, they’re like door phones, analog lines for this and that purpose, and don’t forget SIP trunks – we still need SIP trunks, and you need to convert WebRTC to SIP and RTP for the SIP trunk, which needs to be done through a gateway.

DG: Let’s talk about gateways. I understand you have actually implemented a gateway that connects a VoIP phone to WebRTC.

CS: Yes. The browser obviously includes software that implements the WebRTC API, but the server doesn’t. So we had to go ahead and implement that part of the WebRTC API inside the server, so it can call from WebRTC into the mailbox or into an IVR; the communication then is between browser and server. We can also use this to convert the traffic between the browser and the desktop phone and the browser and the SIP trunk. It was kind of a crazy project, a lot of work, obviously, but in hindsight we’re definitely very happy because now we have these possibilities to connect a lot of this existing equipment with all of these cool new browsers and apps, and I think what we’ve achieved is a level of choice of device, which is tremendous – it presents so many possibilities to businesses. This is something really outstanding, unique in the industry, and I’m proud of this.

DG: Can’t the same thing be achieved with desktop apps?

CS: Yes. Some people are using softphones, using the protocols from the desktop, so you can still do some of this sort of old school stuff. On the other hand, the desktop is usually very powerful, it can easily run a browser inside an app. This is why we prefer, with our Vodia apps, to use our own WebRTC-based implementation. The SIP protocol has limits when it comes to additional features. For example, if you want to set redirection targets, or if you want to set your presence, status, name, or if you want to upload your profile photo, right? These are all things that…

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