The Agora.io Vision by CEO Tony Zhao

Tony Zhao, the Agora.io CEO, made the following comments about the Agora.io vision in an interview with Phil Edholm published at UCStrategies.com on 27 October 2015. Phil is a well-established author and commentator on real-time communications and WebRTC and has been the chairman of TMC’s WebRTC Conference and Expo since its inception in 2012. Phil Edholm is also chair of the first Web Real-Time Solutions conference to be held in Beijing, China on November 10-11, which Agora.io is co-producing. Also see Agora.io’s latest press release about the conference, links to where to register, and Agora.io’s publishing of the seminal WebRTC Book being launched at the conference.

Agora Vision

The Agora vision is to provide ubiquitous real-time communication, with audio and video, everywhere for any device, browser or anyone with an Internet connection. To achieve this, Agora.io is providing a global Communications as a Service (CaaS) product designed for the best Quality of Experience (QoE) and easy integration. For mobile and web developers it will be the easiest way to embed audio/video real-time communication features into their application or website.

We believe that reliable global communications with high QoE require network innovation “in the middle.” Our 65+ data centers around the world create a virtual overlay network on top of public Internet that optimizes routing and transmission for real-time communications sessions. We are compatible with WebRTC standards but also provide extra support including a powerful real-time communication backbone made up of our 65+ datacenters. Our proprietary routing algorithms running inside those data centers support the QoE assurance required for WebRTC applications. Agora also provides enhanced SDKs and codecs for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Meeting Customer Challenges

The big challenge for easy hassle-free embedding of real-time communications within Internet-based applications is the lack of Quality of Experience (QoE). Application developers want to embed communications directly into their mobile and web applications, and emerging technologies like WebRTC are allowing them to do this. However, while WebRTC provides standard APIs, protocols and media codecs it leaves the network connectivity up to you – or up to whatever happens on the general Internet!

If connections are unreliable, voices keep cutting out, and video images break up, then people using these applications will not use these real-time capabilities. This will slow down market adoption. A lot of early work has looked at browser-to-browser connections over reasonable networks; however, this isn’t the real world. The future of communications between applications will be mobile dominated using varying-quality 3G, 4G or WiFi connections and will often be between countries with Internet challenges and bottlenecks. The Internet has no “quality of service” – so how can we optimize real-time communications to handle these often poor, but expected conditions?

Agora.io has invested heavily into two things to solve those issues. The most important one is to build a virtual overlay network optimized for real-time communication. We also spend a significant amount of engineering resources in mobile technologies, embedded in our iOS and Android SDKs, which deal with network variability in the “last mobile mile.” This includes work from device-specific echo cancellation to efficient error resilience in codecs to retransmission optimizations. Then we shorten the “last mobile mile” by having our global data centers in many countries.

Once the communications reach an Agora.io node, we apply automated routing, re-routing and transmission optimizations to keep the communications flowing to their destination within milliseconds. So this is a real-time optimized virtual network running on top of the general Internet. We take advantage of Internet cost dynamics but add quality of experience optimizations that use the Internet as effectively as possible. The result is high quality and cost-effective end-to-end global Communications as a Service.

Agora Technology

Agora.io has built the core technology ourselves – which is all software-based running as SDKs on mobile devices and as server components running in the cloud across our global data centers. The server components create an application level Quality of Service for all audio/video data transmission and thus form a virtual overlay real-time communication network in order to ensure the best quality for each real-time session. Global management and good “DevOps” are key skills we also brought to this solution.

We are integrating with WebRTC standards to allow easy integration into our network from WebRTC-supporting web-browsers and applications. Our CaaS solution also incorporates capabilities like support for sessions with up to 2000 voice users and we will be introducing approaches for large-group sharing of video interactions.

Market Competition

Traditionally, telecommunication carriers have provided global connections between countries – but these are very expensive. The Internet has since provided a vast open network across which incredible volumes of text, pictures, sound, and video is traveling every minute. On top of this, new standards like WebRTC for real-time communications have emerged and there are a range of companies from Google and Intel down to many startups providing WebRTC technologies and services. But there are not many of these investing in optimizing the global network connectivity between application clients – mobile devices and web browsers. This is the Agora.io vision – a global CaaS deeply optimized to increase the quality of real-time communications sessions.

Agora.io Market Focus

We have a global focus. Our CaaS network is global and anyone in the world can access and sign up for our services. That said, we have initially focused our sales and marketing investments in North America where we are targeting organizations and developers building mobile and web applications. As we build our customer base we expect, over time, to expand our presence in Europe and the rest of the world.