Chris Kranky

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WebRTC P2P the dirty bomb

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

searchAct1I’m in Hong Kong and we have a VoIP telephone system. Unfortunately, the server for our system is located in Dallas, Texas some 8,100 miles away. If I dare call my office colleague (who is literally in the next office 10 feet away), my voice packets will travel a total of 16,200 miles before he hears me. God forbid anyone in the US calls my HK office PSTN telephone number, in which case the call will transit the Pacific 3 times before ringing my desktop phone!

No big surprise – call quality is crap.

In the SIP world, the VoIP standards groups saw this potential and created something called RTP Media Release. This required the application server or in most cases, the dreaded SBC (the most feared device in any VoIP network) to be smart enough to figure out I was calling my office colleague 10 feet away and release the media. Unfortunately, this was complex to set-up and in my years (since the first lost packet) in VoIP I’ve rarely seen production networks allowing for this. Plus most IP telephone sets didn’t seem to like to support this method.

But it silly to think about how this works, isn’t it?

WebRTC is fundamentally about providing P2P connectivity with little complexity. I’m sending, you’re receiving and there’s no guy in the middle sans some thing that helped facilitate the connection. The underlying IP network should figure out the shortest path. Imagine the bandwidth savings at the Internet core if all our communications went on the shortest possible route.

P2P has a bad rap within IT departments due to it’s association with BitTorrent and all sorts of perceived (and some real) security issues. IT organizations and some countries have gone to great lengths to clamp down on P2P communications. But the overall efficiency and power of P2P continues to win out.

Most of the discussion about WebRTC is about cute video & voice calling from within your browser. What we’re just catching on to is that Google/Mozilla are embedding P2P capabilities natively into your browser. Imagine a tiny javascript download that turns your browser into a BitTorrent client?

IT departments are going to get all excited once they figure this out. But this will unleash a lot of capabilities for applications for all sorts of P2P applications from content delivery, information sharing & collaboration.  Similar to Android, WebRTC may well accidently kill a few existing businesses along the way (think anyone making a living in the middle). I’m betting the new found creativity will inspire more than it destroys.