Twilio, the Cloud-based VoIP/Skype App Enabler

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Tom Keating
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Twilio, the Cloud-based VoIP/Skype App Enabler

Today, Twillio is launching their cloud-based VoIP offering that enables developers to add VoIP capabilities to any website with just three lines of code. Twilio's VoIP developer toolkit called “Twilio Client” enables realtime two-ray audio to voice-enable browsers, iOS, and Android Apps. Twilio's product uses the Flash plugin to access the microphone. But since Apple's iOS doesn't support Flash I'm told for mobile they are integrating with iOS and Android through custom mobile SDKs. The mobile SDKs will allow the Android and iPhone mobile platforms to offer Twilio-powered VoIP to their applications.

Twillio explained that "with Twilio Client, web developers worldwide can now build Skype-like voice capabilities with Twilio’s scalable, reliable communications infrastructure-as-a-service. With just a few lines of code, web and mobile applications can host voice conversations, conference calls, and other forms of rich communication." Essentially, you can think of Twilio as a hosted Skype service that lets anyone into the VoIP game. They handle the entire back-end VoIP infrastructure, while you just build your app.

Twilio Client is not the first to offer a cloud-based VoIP SDK. Phono offers an open source jQuery plugin and JavaScript library that turns any web browser into a phone that is capable of making phone calls and sending instant messages. You can even connect to SIP clients all via their simple unified API. Phono also acts as an XMPP client capable of sending and receiving IM messages to and from any XMPP/Google Talk user. Some advantages of Phono over Twilio include HD audio and free Phono-to-Phone VoIP calls. Phono was actually created by Voxeo. Fellow-VoIP blogger Dan York works at Voxeo. I'll have to ping him for his insights into Twilio vs. Phono.

Twilio charges 1/4 cent per minute for VoIP calls, while calls that are routed from a VoIP client to a landline or wireless number (PSTN) are two cents per minute or basically 8X as expensive! This will certainly drive current Twilio developers to migrate to VoIP and encourage new developers to focus on routing calls over VoIP.

Currently, over 40,000 developers use Twilio for applications that interact with traditional mobile and landline telephones over the PSTN. In fact, their SMS module which only charges 1 cent per inbound/outbound message helped spawn a few group SMS startups. With Twilio Client these same applications can now communicate directly with end-users, bypassing the PSTN.

Twilio Client is available today as a free Javascript SDK download, with iOS and Android SDKs currently in beta.

Update: Dan York responded to my email request. Below are his thoughts. Twiliio is welcome to respond to Dan's comments if they wish and I will update this post again.

Thanks for the mention in the article and for contacting me.  The Twilio Client is interesting but it is only doing a small fraction of what the Phono client started doing 9 months ago!  Some of the key differences:

- Phono doesn't lock you in to a single provider.  Phono supports open industry standards for VoIP and IM such as SIP and XMPP, allowing you to build apps that interconnect directly over IP with your existing communication infrastructure.  

- To that point, Phono can connect in directly to your existing VoIP infrastructure, be it an IP-PBX, Unified Communications system, IP contact center or other system.  There is no need to go back to the PSTN for interop and lose all the rich headers, HD audio and everything else you get with IP communications.

- Phono supports HD/wideband audio delivering a MUCH better user experience. You mentioned building a Skype-like experience in your article, but the truth is that one of the greatest strengths of Skype is the incredible quality of the audio based on their use of wideband codecs.  Phono lets you create that experience *today* in your own application.  HD voice also provides a superior experience for apps that use speech recognition or voice verification.

- Phono supports both voice and text-based chat so that you can use whichever communication channel customers prefer.   You can create a webchat app that you can offer to visitors - and you can also provide a click-to-call button that will launch a voice connection.

- Phono can be easily connected to so that a Phono app can receive inbound phone calls from regular phones, SIP clients or Skype users and use Tropo's geographical reach to get inbound phone numbers in over 40 countries.  Additionally, Phono apps can  make use of Tropo's speech recognition and text-to-speech in 24 languages, call recording, conferencing, phone number transfer and more.  On the text side, Phono apps using chat can connect to to interact via SMS, using public IM networks such as GTalk, AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, Jabber and social networks like Twitter.

- Phono also supports iOS and Android apps *today* through Phono Mobile -

- Phono is open source.  All the source code is available at for download and modification under a permissive Apache-style license.

- Phono calls to other Phono clients are free.

I could go on, but I think you get the point - Phono doesn't lock you in to a proprietary system.  Phono uses open industry standards and lets you interoperate directly with the existing VoIP/UC infrastructure you have already built.  Phono also lets you communicate with customers in the channel of their choice, whether that is voice, SMS, instant messaging or even Twitter. All this in just a few lines of JavaScript in any web app.

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