Over the past few months I’ve been hearing from more content owners that are looking for and asking about low latency video based streaming solutions. The traditional live event is a one-way stream from broadcasters to viewers where the average latency can be anywhere from 15-45 seconds if not longer and interactive viewer participation is impossible in this format. There is a growing interest in use cases such as online talk shows, auctions, virtual gaming, fan engagement and online classrooms where real-time interactive guest participation is integral.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to solution providers and looking at specific low latency offerings in the market and am impressed with the Agora.io platform. Agora.io is a two-year old startup which has raised $26M in funding to date. They are headquartered in CA, with offices in Shanghai, UK and India. The company’s CEO Bin “Tony” Zhao was the first voice/video engineer for WebEx, and combined, the employees they have decades of real-time communications experience.
It’s an interesting company that doesn’t have major brand exposure here in the US, but has amassed an impressive list of customers internationally. While you may have never heard of Agora.io, the service is powering nearly 500 million devices globally, streaming an average of 3 billion interactive voice and video minutes a month.
I started comparing CDNs in the market to a solution like Agora.io’s and found really big differences in how they are designed. Most CDN solutions are TCP/IP based, which tend to degrade badly at 15% packet loss. But since Agora.io uses UDP, even with 40% packet loss the solution is resilient. Its end-to-end latency is 200-600ms, which is unheard of when it comes to CDNs. For any kind of interactive or two-way remote broadcast, CDNs can’t offer a bi-directional low latency solution at this level. It’s the difference between running a successful service, or not being able to apply it to specific applications, which limits its value in the market.
From an implementation standpoint, the service is very simple to integrate. With only a few lines of code customers can embed Agora.io as a white label service into their web or mobile application, with support for thousands of endpoint types. The Agora.io service supports HD voice and video (720p/1080p), up to 50,000 real-time participants in a single interactive session, with the option to extend to an unlimited audience using traditional non-interactive streaming via a CDN. Their technology is mobile-optimized with advanced packet-loss concealment/recovery capabilities and it also supports real-time recording, server-side recording and can transcode and distribute audio/video streams with their recording API.
As we have seen with some of the most recent large-scale live events on the web, traditional one-way live streaming is being disrupted by the demand for interactive engagement. Just look at the rapid emergence of mobile-centric social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that highlight interactivity with viewers. With that demand and need for more engagement from viewers, low latency streaming options are going to become the future of the live streaming market. I expect we’ll see a lot more providers focusing on low-latency functionality this year as the demand continues to grow.