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The WebRTC Story - Part I

By Olivier Anguenot
Published in others
September 25, 2022
1 min read

Table Of Contents

1849-1920 - A complex technical challenge
1920-1990 - A promising technology
1990-1996 - The emerging Web platform
1997-2009 - Newcomers companies
2010 - WebRTC to come
Some sources used
The WebRTC Story - Part I

The WebRTC technology started to emerge in 2010. But WebRTC is the result of a long journey that began more than 100 years before.

I found some time to dig into the Web to try to understand how the WebRTC technology emerged.

This is my personal view of the story. I have selected people, companies, events and facts to put on that WebRTC Wall of Fame.

I may have missed or misinterpreted some elements. Please feel free to add your comments.

Here is the first part of that story that focus on the period before 2010.

1849-1920 - A complex technical challenge

The land is vast and the existing transportation did not allow to bring people together easily. The hope that communication would fill this gap grew at the end of the 19th century. But everything is to be done…

1849Antonio Meucci is credited with inventing the first basic phone
1876Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone
1878Thomas Edison envisioned a prescient device called the telephonoscope. It would convey images as well as sound, so that faraway relatives could communicate with their kin.
1880The Photophone (a telecommunications device that allows transmission of speech on a beam of light) invented by Bell and his assistant transmitted a wireless voice telephone message over a distance of 213m
1885Alexander Graham Bell co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T)
1915Bell made the first transcontinental telephone call between New York and San Francisco

Image: Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center
Image: Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center

1920-1990 - A promising technology

The period 1920-1990 was the period where dreams became reality with the apparition of the first “devices” able to transmit audio and video.

1920Bell Telephone Laboratories began work on creating a “picture-phone” device.
1927Ikonophone from AT&T was able to transmit from Washington to New-York a video stream (18 frames per seconds, one way) with audio (2 ways)
1929Ikonophone upgraded to support full color
1930Ikonophone supported the two-way calls
1935The word “video” is coined
1936The first publicly operated, two-way picture-phone service in the world began in 1936 and was operated by the German Reichspost (post office). People in Berlin could get in some face time with others in cities like Leipzig until the service was shuttered due to World War II.
1956AT&T had a new Picturephone (prototype) test system ready in 1956. But it was still a rudimentary device that could only transmit an image once every two seconds in black and white.
1964The AT&T Picturephone (Mod 1) was displayed at that year’s World’s Fair in Queens, New York. It even hosted the first transcontinental video call from the Bell Systems Pavilion to Disneyland in Anaheim, California
1965Ericsson, the Sweden-based electronics and communications maker, was so inspired by the technology being developed at AT&T that it began to invest in its own line of videophone products
1967First known us of “video conferencing
1968PicturePhone locations have been stopped (only 71 calls made in 6 months
1969CompuServe has been founded
1970AT&T introduced PicturePhone Mod II for home and offices
1973Network Voice Protocol (NVP) was implemented by Danny Cohen (ISI)
1973PicturePhone Mod II discontinued
1978First patent awarded to Compression Labs around rate control (video encoder)
1980CompuServe releases the first chat service CB Simulator
1981Packet Video Protocol (PVP) has been defined
1981First paper describing an hybrid codec that became the basis for practically all commercially relevant video codecs that have been designed to this day
1982Compression Labs launched CLI T1 a group video conferencing system
1984Creation of PictureTel
1984PictureTel developed the C-2000 video encoder and decoder for ISDN channels. First design around point-to-point connections.
1988Mitsubishi created a picture phone that was able to send images during calls
1988In November, ITU-T approved the G.722 wideband audio codec
1989Brian C. Wiles created RASCAL, the first system to send voice over Ethernet networks

Image: AT&T VideoPhone 2500
Image: AT&T VideoPhone 2500

1990-1996 - The emerging Web platform

From 1990 to 1996, 3 keys pillars (building blocks) for WebRTC were built: The webcam, the Internet and the browser.

Dec, 1990Tim Berners-Lee developed the first server and web browser for the NeXT Computer in the CERN
May, 1991The first webcam is developed. It was used on a local network to monitor the coffee machine in the Cambridge University (129x129 pixels, grayscale picture, one frame per second).
Jul, 1991First release of NetPhone from AutoDesk
Apr, 1992First release of Erwise, the first web browser for the NeXt
Jun, 1992First release of CU-SeeMe (video only in the first release) available on Macintosh (2 years later on Windows). Cu-SeeMe will by acquired by RadVision in 2005 and then by Avaya (2012). Cu-SeeMe was the first “video-chat”
Sep, 1992AT&T unveiled the VideoPhone 2500, the world’s first colour videophone that could transmit over analog telephone lines
Jan, 1993First version of Mosaic developed by the NCSA
Jun, 1993First release of Cello, the web browser from Microsoft
Jan, 1994First real paper on multipoint control units for videoconferencing. This design was referred to a transcoding Multipoint Control Unit or MCU. Due to the high processing needed on server side for decoding, scaling and re-encoding streams, first servers cost more than 50,000$ and are limited to 32 participants
Aug, 1994Connectix Corporation sells the first commercial webcam for the Apple Macintosh connected via a serial port (320x240)
Sep, 1994Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nov, 1994First release of the Netscape web browser
Aug, 1995Microsoft releases the first version of Internet Explorer.
Sep, 1995Creation of the company Opera Software to focus on the development of the Opera browser
Sep, 1995First release of Free World Dialup, the first paid solution for VoIP calls
Oct, 1995Connectix Corporation releases the same webcam for Microsoft Windows.
Dec, 1995Netscape and Sun Microsystems unveiled JavaScript
Jan, 1996Henning Schulzrinne (University of Columbia) published the first specification of the RTP: Real-Time Protocol (RFC 1889 → RFC 3550). This describes how to take bits coming from an audio or video encoder and put them into packets so that they can be transported over IP networks.
Feb, 1996First public release of the Opera browser for Windows 1995
Mar, 1996Netscape added the support of JavaScript in Netscape Navigator 2.0
Apr, 1996Panasonic prototyped the first wordless videophone (7 frames per seconds)
May, 1996Microsoft releases the first version of NetMeeting for Windows 95 OSR2 using the H323 (G723 for video and G711 for audio) codec
Aug, 1996Microsoft added the support of JScript in Internet Explorer 3.0
Sep, 1996Foundation of Lucent Technologies (from AT&T Technologies composed by Western Electric and the Bell Labs)
Nov, 1996First draft of H.323 published by the ITU
Dec, 1996Macromedia bought FutureSplash Animator (vector animation tool) and released the first version of Flash 1.0

Image: Connectix QuickCam: 1st Ever Webcam
Image: Image: Connectix QuickCam: 1st Ever Webcam

1997-2009 - Newcomers companies

Starting 1997, the “Telco” vendors starting to see newcomers able to create social platforms with a new way to communicate around the world in real-time.

Do we still really need a phone to call someone ?

Jun, 1997Flash 2.0 with the support of stereo sound and bitmap integration
Nov, 1997AOL acquired CompuServe
Nov, 1997AOL Instant Messenger launched
Mar, 1998Yahoo Messenger launched
Sep, 1998Foundation of Google Inc
Mar, 1999Internet Explorer 5.0 introduces the first implementation of the interface XMLHttpRequest and add the support of Flash 4 (with support of MP3)
May, 1999First public release of SIP (v2.0)
May, 1999In 1999, Kyocera released what it claimed was the first mobile videophone — indeed, the inclusion of a camera alone was a feat for the time. It was called the VisualPhone VP-210 and included a built-in, front-facing camera that could transmit and receive video at the rate of about two frames per second.
xxx, 1999First release of Asterisk, the first IP-PBX developed by Mark Spencer
Jun, 1999First work on the Jabber protocol
Jul, 1999MSN Messenger launched
Feb, 2001First version of VideoLan with a server to stream audio and video to a desktop application available for Mac, Linux, Windows and Box
May, 2001PictureTel was acquired by Polycom
Aug, 2001Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer 6 for Windows XP
Feb, 2002First release of Firefox 1.0 developed by the Mozilla Foundation and based on Gecko
Aug, 2002Apple introduces iChat in Mac OSX 10.2, compliant with ICQ
Jan, 2003Creation of Lifesize
Jan, 2003First version of Safari, the official Web browser for the Macintosh based on Apple’s internal fork of the KHTML rendering engine, called WebKit.
Jun, 2003With Mac OS 10.3, Apple iChat becomes iChat AV with the possibility to have audio and video calls (SIP)
Jul, 2003Creation of the Mozilla Foundation
xxx, 2003First version of Jitsi developed by Emil Ivov during his years of study in Strasbourg (France)
Aug, 2003First public beta version of Skype
Jan, 2004VoIP declared as an information service, not a phone service. (states could not regulate VoIP services.
Feb, 2004Creation of The Facebook
Feb, 2004Radvision (with Ofer Shapiro) developed the first Ip video conferencing bridge and programmable gatekeeper
Sep, 2004Final specification published for the iLBC (Internet Low Bitrate Codec) a royalty-free narrow band speech audio coding format developed by Global IP Solution (GIPS)
Nov, 2004First official version of Firefox 1.0
Mar, 2005Ofer Shapiro left Radvision and found Vidyo with the goal of introducing a new architecture for doing multipoint video by solving the error resilience and the server complexity problems. This new architecture was based on two innovations: use of scalable video coding and use of what we called selective forwarding server
May, 2005Enhanced 911 Services now mandatory for VoIP Providers
May, 2005SCN Ltd. launched the beta version of TruPhone, the first VoIP mobile application on the Nokia 60
Aug, 2005Google Talk launched
Sep, 2005eBay acquires Skype for US\$2.5 billion in up-front cash and eBay stock
Dec, 2005Adobe Systems acquires Macromedia and all of its products
Jan, 2006First public announcement of FreeSWITCH at O’Reilly Media’s ETEL Conference by Anthony Minessale
Apr, 2006The World Wide Web Consortium published a Working Draft specification for the XMLHttpRequest object
May, 2006Apple introduces the first MacBook with a camera
Oct, 2006Justin Uberti AIM (AOL) hired by Google (for working on Google Talk).
Dec, 2006Alcatel SA and Lucent Technologies merged into Alcatel-Lucent
Jan, 2007Apple unveiled first Iphone
Apr, 2007Serge Lachapelle hired by Google
Jan, 2008Vidyo launched VidyoConferencing, its first SFU based product
Apr, 2008Facebook® Chat is released
May, 2008FreeSWITCH v1.0.0 is released
Jun, 2009First downloadable version of BigBlueButton (v0.4)
Sep, 2008Jabber XCP acquired by Cisco
Sep, 2008First release of VP8 by On2
Sep, 2008First version of Chrome by Google
Nov, 2008Serge Lachapelle’s team (included Justin Uberti) added voice and video chat in Gmail using XMPP, H264/SVC
Jan, 2009WhatsApp is released, allowing users to send texts, pictures, video, and audio for free aka no more paying for SMS
May, 2009Google announced Google Wave, it’s new collaborative platform
Sep, 2009Chrome 3 adds the support of the Audio and Video elements
Oct, 2009First idea of WebRTC one year after the launch of Chrome by the Chrome team to look for a real time communication solution without a server and without a plugin

Image: GMail voice and video chat
Image: GMail voice and video chat

2010 - WebRTC to come

And here we are, in 2010 where the WebRTC journey really started…

All the pieces of the puzzle were in place to move from the idea of real-time browser communication without a plugin to a real implementation…

The second part is available here: The WebRTC Story Part II.

Some sources used

  • Look who’s talking the birth of the video phone
  • History of video conferencing
  • History of VoIP and Internet Telephones




Previous Article
Did I choose the right WebRTC stack?
Olivier Anguenot

Olivier Anguenot

Your WebRTC copilot



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