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NICTA banks on Skype-like app for next spinoff

Date

Stuart Corner

NICTA is looking to real-time web communication to find the next big thing.

NICTA is looking to real-time web communication to find the next big thing. Photo: Bloomberg

Australia technology research body is hoping to find, and commercialise, the next big thing in online communication one that bypasses the need for popular applications such as Skype.

NICTA is hoping to exploit the potential of web real-time communications (WebRTC) for a new commercialisation initiative that it hopes will be sufficiently successful to spin off early in 2015.

It may be used on health, education, the delivery of government services or simply so two parties can scan work on the same document.

WebRTC is a feature of the HTML5 digital mark-up language that is being touted as a major disruptor. It enables two-way audio and video communication between browsers that support it, without the need for additional applications, such as Skype. Audio and video traffic can be encrypted making the conversation much more secure.

Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, NICTA's WebRTC product manager, said it was exploiting the technology to develop a range of applications. "NICTA is presently working on proof of concept trials focused on allied health, government service delivery and tele-education."

The idea is to offer a website with a template from which paid customers can build a WebRTC application to suit their needs - in much the same way that online retailers can use e-commerce websites to set up their own online store.

The NICTA service would also operate the node needed to establish a 'conversation' between two browsers, but once established all communication would be peer-to-peer without the need for a central server.

"We are developing a web application that allows you to adjust the layout in the way you want: you pick a colour scheme and you put your logo on it," Pfeiffer said. "It could be used by an insurance broker or a lawyer: anything where you have an expert on one end and someone seeking advice on the other.

"Our idea is that this will be very document focused: you can put a document under a camera and interact on it. You will also be able to bring in a third party: a translator, or a parent for example."

Pfeiffer said once it's being used by a few paying customers, NICTA will looks for investors to spin it off as a separate company.

"We think we can do all this in six to nine months."

Dr Terry Percival, director of NICTA's broadband and digital economy business team, said this approach was behind the centre's track record of commercialisation success. "We incubate the model, get some customers to validate the model and then go and find investors. That is why we have such a high success rate."

However opinion is divided on the impact of WebRTC. 

Dean Bubley, principal of US based Disruptive Analysis - has predicted that WebRTC would disrupt the telecoms industry making "the opportunities bigger, the threats worse and all this at a faster speed then ever seen before".

But Dave Michels, president of US based Verg1 Consulting, argues it has fallen short on many of its promises.

"WebRTC is not ubiquitous, not plug-in free, and may not even be free. WebRTC has not delivered any new capabilities and remains a niche technology with no examples that have far-reaching implications." 

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