Ericsson lays groundwork for calls from mobile browsers with Bowser

But vendors have to agree on a video codec before a standard can be defined

Ericsson has launched the world's first WebRTC-compatible browser for mobile devices, which will allow developers to integrate voice and video communications in their Web-based applications.

The WebRTC (real-time communication) specification and other technologies needed for the communication to work are currently being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

Ericsson's new browser, announced Friday, is called Bowser, and is available as a free download for iPhones, iPads and Android-based devices.

"It is an experimental browser that we have put out to allow us at Ericsson and developers to better understand the technology and use it in the best possible way," said Daniel Enström, director of multimedia technologies at Ericsson.

Ericsson also wants feedback from developers, to get their take on what needs to be added and maybe removed, according to Enström. It has no plans to turn Bowser into a commercial product, he said.

WebRTC is one of the technologies included in HTML5. It consists of APIs for audio and video communications that developers can access when writing applications using Javascript. A Web-based application can establish audio and video calls using the WebRTC APIs that Bowser implements. However, WebRTC on its own isn't enough; it needs to be complemented with other technologies to find and connect with the receiver.

To help developers along, Ericsson Research has posted code examples they can use for inspiration on its Labs site.

There are still some issues that need to be ironed out in IETF discussions before a standard can be defined, including how to exchange encryption keys and the choice of video codec.

"There are two main candidates pitted against each other, one is H.264 and the other is VP8," said Enström.

Bowser comes with an H.264 video codec, which Ericsson along with many others have chosen to back for several reasons, according to Enström.

"There are already a ton of H.264 implementations, and there is also a well-defined licensing model and many hardware platforms already have integrated support for the codec," said Enström.

But not everyone agrees that is the right choice. A WebRTC project hosted by Google makes no mention of H.264, and instead highlights the advantages of the royalty-free VP8 codec, which was included in its acquisition of On2 Technologies.

However, Ericsson still believes a stable standard will be ready in the beginning or in the middle of next year.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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