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New Browser Feature Portends Big Shift in Web Communications

New software that’s being incorporated into Web browsers is poised to shake up the world of Internet communications, making it cheap and easy to set up video conferences, send messages and access Web pages while bypassing phone networks and online services such as Skype.

Championed by Google, the technology known as WebRTC (which stands for Web Real-Time Communications) already powers Google’s “Hangouts” and Amazon’s “Mayday” video chats. A raft of applications is now hitting the market as tech companies wake up to WebRTC and its potential benefits.

WebRTC is among a handful of new peer-to-peer technologies that promise to alter the technical architecture of the online world by connecting computers directly with one another. A so-called “mesh networking” service called FireChat, for example, allows smartphone users in the same vicinity to send each other messages, pictures and other files without needing an Internet connection at all.

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WebRTC “levels the playing field for voice and video technology on the Internet,” Mr. Willassen says. “Mobile operators are in a good position to exploit that because they have huge distribution networks.”

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With ubiquitous Wi-Fi, developers could use WebRTC to develop private communication services, including ones that work for mobile phone users on the go, lessening the need to subscribe to a mobile phone plan.