Twilio Brings WebRTC-Based Video Chat To Its Cloud Communications Platform

Twilio has long made it easy for developers to integrate voice calling and text messaging into their applications, but starting today, the service will also offer a video chat. The new Twilio Video service uses the WebRTC standard — which Twilio already used for some of its audio features — and is now available in beta.

As Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson told me, he believes that video has long been seen as part of stand-alone consumer applications like Skype or FaceTime or business tools like video meeting software. What Twilio hopes to enable with this new feature is a future where video can be easily integrated into any application. Say you have an accident and need to call your insurance. With an integrated video feature, you can’t just tell your insurance agent about what happened, but you can show exactly what kind of damage your car sustained.

WebRTC has long promised this kind of functionality, but while it’s integrated into most modern browsers now (or soon coming to them, in the case of Internet Explorer), it still takes third-party vendors to actually make it easy to use and offer the kind of platforms that make it scalable and efficient to use. Standard WebRTC calls also often get stuck at the firewall level, so it take a platform like Twilio or competing services like Telefonica’s TokBox to make traversing networks possible for these calls.

Using Twilio Video, developers get access to multi-party video calls with up to four participants, support for unlimited video connections, low-latency relays through Twilio’s data centers around the world and access to SDKs for iOS and Android.

As Lawson told me, the company has been working on adding video support for about two years now. “If you just need a P2P video call, you can get it working very quickly,” he said when I asked him why this took so long. “But that doesn’t mean it’s low-latency all around the globe.” The team, Lawson noted, also learned a lot about WebRTC from Twilio’s audio implementation, which will power about a billion minutes of talk time this year.

Getting started with Twilio Video should be pretty easy for developers — especially if they have used Twilio’s APIs before. It should just take a few lines of code to integrate video and during the beta period, usage will be free. It’s still unclear how Twilio plans to charge for the service after the beta period, but Lawson tells me that the company probably won’t follow many of its competitors in charging a per-minute fee.

Developers who are interested in trying out Twilio Video can now sign up for beta access here.