As reported by Ruben here, on September 25th we had the first edition of “VoIP on the Beach”. This event provides experts in the VoIP field the opportunity to discuss topics that they consider critical. This time we chose “Federation with WebRTC” and decided to split into two groups: one discussing the reasons in favour of federation, the other on the reasons against.
I followed the group “against”, and took some notes.
First of all a question that was raised is around the definition and objectives of federation. Has federation the purpose of providing a sort of global identity? Were we talking about “identity federation”? Or having a better user experience, e.g. with people able to instantiate a call from a domain to another domain without switching application?
One weak point of federation appeared to be that it’s not considered able to guarantee security nor identity. If you’re using a single service, and there’s a security vulnerability, you can trust that service to solve it as soon as possible. How can you trust a chain of services to all patch the vulnerability? A similar point was made about end-to-end encryption in a federated environment.
Another is that it appears we’ve had the opportunity to federate various times in the past (see e.g. XMPP and RCS), but the perception is that it wasn’t a success. Why trying again?
A concern was raised that trying to federate services could limit the freedom of choice, and that aiming at a common set of features would impact the ability to innovate. In general, federation is not something that users want or perceive of value.
To summarise, while there isn’t a solution to connect people in separate islands, and potentially there are protocols and technology to achieve that, the reasoning against federation was related to the complexity of integration, the need for selecting a subset of features, and the doubt that security and privacy are in practice achievable.
I hope my notes give enough justice to the very interesting discussion I witnessed, and I look forward for new opportunities to talk about critical topics in the world of VoIP.