What Is Real-Time Communication?

woman using real-time communication for a conference call and also viewing data dashboards

Real-time communication (RTC) encompasses a broad collection of tools and services that allow us to — you guessed it — communicate in real time. Essentially, real-time communication is live communication via any type of telecommunication. Beginning with two-way radios and the public switched telephone network, people have been using RTC for more than a hundred years. And it’s become even more useful and prevalent in our daily lives since then. The most obvious applications include phone and video calls. But real-time communication has worked its way into many more products, and it’s likely to continue expanding.


How Does Real-Time Communication Work?

At the most basic level, data is transmitted from a source to a destination instantly and without being stored at any point between the two. The data can travel in both directions simultaneously, which is called full duplex, or in one direction at a time, which is called half duplex. Historically, RTC technologies have been used for peer-to-peer connections, not broadcasting. Although instant messaging is considered a form of real-time communication, services such as email and forums aren’t. Information that isn’t intended to be instantly consumed or responded to isn’t RTC.


What Are Some Real-Time Communication Tools?

Many of the communications tools we use today are considered RTC. Examples include phones, instant messaging, and live video streaming as well as screen sharing and live transcription services. I’m writing this using Google Drive, which provides real-time collaboration on a document. It’s another example of how deeply RTC is embedded in our daily lives. In fact, it’s unlikely that someone in society today could make it through the day without using some sort of real-time communication tool.

In terms of live video streaming, one of the most important RTC advancements in recent history is WebRTC — the Web Real-TIme Communication framework — which emerged in 2011. WebRTC began as a Google open-source project designed to allow browsers to support real-time communication without additional plugins. Now, it’s standardized by the IETF and W3C, and it’s supported across most desktop and mobile browsers. WebRTC is still open source, which means companies of all sizes and even developers with limited means can create something using the architecture. This has resulted in the rapid development and adoption of WebRTC applications since mid-2020. And it’s also begun to broaden use cases of RTC, such as one-to-many broadcasting.


What’s Next for Real-Time Communication?


Business and Industry

Real-time communication has continued to expand into more verticals over the past decade. Right now, we’re seeing real-time communication become central to digital fitness, remote education, and telehealth because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This rapid progress is unlikely to slow down now that workers and consumers have grown accustomed to instant communication without leaving home. Other verticals that are expected to increase use of real-time communication are over-the-top (OTT) services and finance.


Machine Learning

Real-time communication is being paired with what’s called deep learning and neural networks to improve RTC features such as speech analytics and voice bots. Using methods such as these can affect tools for live transcribing and video conferences. Machine learning and RTC bring better clarity in telecommunications, with both audio and video. It may surprise you to know that machine learning is what’s behind Snapchat filters and Zoom virtual backgrounds. These technologies are only now being fully developed, and we can expect a lot more progress to occur in this field.


Interactive Video Experiences

WebRTC in particular is one of the underlying technologies that allows interactive video streaming. When a tool can deliver latency that’s low enough, it allows viewers to see content, react to it in some way, and then send those reactions to the streamer. This creates a positive-feedback loop between the creator and consumer. Already, we’re seeing interactive video gambling and auctions accelerating in popularity. Live commerce and esports have already become household terms. The driving force behind all of the new ways we’ve found to interact with each other digitally is real-time communication.



If it seems that the streaming industry is obsessed with labeling things real time, you’re correct. In addition to RTC and WebRTC, there’s the Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), which is a streaming protocol developed by Adobe that’s used to maintain persistent, low-latency connections for smooth video experience. There’s also the Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) — today’s protocol of choice for IP cameras — as well as the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) and Real-Time Control Protocol (RTCP). All of the acronyms and naming conventions come from the quest to experience all our methods of communication live. Wowza is working toward this goal, and the industry as a whole has been making a lot of headway with both WebRTC and Low-Latency HLS. Earlier this year, Wowza enhanced WebRTC capabilities for Wowza Streaming Cloud by enabling browser-based live broadcasting. Additionally, Wowza is partnering with THEO and Fastly to provide a seamless, end-to-end solution for the LL-HLS specification. We can expect advancements centered around these two technologies for the foreseeable future as everyone in the live streaming industry continues to push for low-to-no latency.


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About Brittney Dougherty

Based in Denver, CO, Brittney Dougherty is a digital marketer at Wowza in charge of SEO and website updates. She has eight years of experience in B2B writing and research. She is known to frequently nerd out about marketing, gaming, Sci-Fi, and hiking.