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Google open sources $68.2m realtime comm platform

Audio and video chatter inside the browser

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Google has open sourced a framework for realtime video and audio inside the browser. Known as WebRTC, the framework is based on technology the company acquired with its $68.2 million purchase of Global IP Solutions (GIPS) last year.

"We’d like to make the browser the home for innovation in real time communications," Google said in a blog post. "Until now, real time communications required the use of proprietary signal processing technology that was mostly delivered through plug-ins and client downloads." The framework lets developers build realtime applications using HTML and JavaScript APIs.

The move is reminiscent of Google's much ballyhooed decision to open source the VP8 video codec it acquired with its $124.6 million purchase of On2 Technologies. As with the VP8-based WebM format – intended for use with the HTML5 video tag – Google has open sourced WebRTC under a BSD license in tandem with a patent grant.

The idea is to create a completely royalty-free format that anyone can use for realtime communication. Opera and Mozilla have already backed the project, aiming to slip the framework into their browsers. "I think it's very civil of Google to make premium codecs freely available for web use. At Opera we are eager to include real-time communication on the web," Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie tells The Register. Google will likely add the technology to Chrome in the near future.

WebRTC includes the wideband and super-wideband iSAC voice codec developed by Global IP Solutions, the free narrowband voice codec from Global IP, and the same VP8 codec that's included with WebM. The framework also supports the G.711 and G.722 voice codecs, and it includes various other audio technologies, including acoustic echo cancellation, automatic gain control, noise reduction, and noise suppression.

Software for establishing peer-to-peer connections through NAT and firewall devices comes, in part, from the libjingle project used by Google Talk. Connections came be made using STUN, ICE, TURN, or RTP-over-TCP, and there's support for proxies. It also includes dynamic jitter buffers and error concealment tools designed to reduce the effects of packet loss.

Though Google should be applauded for open sourcing the framework, the MPEG LA – which licenses the competing H.264 video codec – has questioned whether VP8 is violating third-party patents and has threatened to build a patent pool to collect royalties for Google's ostensibly royalty-free technology. Outsiders could raise similar concerns around the rest of the WebRTC framework. With Apple and Microsoft already balking the inclusion of WebM in Safari and Internet Explorer, they are unlikely to back WebRTC anytime soon.

Just last month, Microsoft spent $8.5 billion to acquire Skype, which provides voice and video calling outside the browser. ®

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