Real-time video and audio communication is a feature the market wants.
However, real-time communication can be a huge challenge to implement well. But, like for so much of the technology stack, there’s a platform for that. Instead of rolling your own video communications network—and take on the technical burden of maintaining and scaling it—it’s usually easier to deliver those features via existing infrastructure built by specialized service providers.
Agora.io is one of the companies operating in the background, helping to facilitate the video revolution with its proprietary real-time communications network. You may not have heard of the company before, but there’s a chance you’ve used its services. Agora.io provides a software development kit (SDK) to app developers who wish to integrate live video broadcast or voice and video call functionality into their apps.
In an exclusive with Crunchbase News, the company is formally announcing it has raised an additional $30 million in an extension of its Series B round. The first part of its Series B, some $20 million, was closed in September 2015 in a round led by SIG China, which also had participation from other China-focused firms like GGV Capital, Morningside Group, Shunwei Capital, and IDG Capital. The Series B extension the company announced today was, in fact, closed in early 2017, with all prior investors participating.
With $50 million now raised in its Series B round, and $5 million in its Series A round from 2015, the company has raised a total of $55 million in known venture funding.
Agora.io was founded in 2014 by Tony Zhao. Before Agoraio, Zhao served as the chief technical officer, VP of operations, and board member for five years at YY.com, which went public in November 2012. He was also one of the founding engineers leading real-time audio and visual technology at WebEx, which was acquired by Cisco in 2007 for $3.2 billion in cash.
In a statement provided to Crunchbase News, Zhao observed that “there’s been a paradigm shift in the way people communicate and engage with [others] across the globe. More and more businesses are realizing that their users and customers desire real-time interaction and have started deploying in-app voice and video calling in droves.”
The challenges around development, implementation, and scaling are manifold. In an interview with Crunchbase News, Reggie Yativ—who is dual-titled as Agora.io’s chief of revenue and operations—said that cost, quality, mobility, and ubiquity are all obstacles to companies which opt to build their own real-time audio and video networks. Here are some of the challenges Yativ highlighted:
- Cost. “Transmitting high-definition video over the open internet would take up a lot of bandwidth, which doesn’t come cheap. […] This is why we built our own proprietary audio and video codecs, which take up less bandwidth.”
- Quality. “Reducing latency and lag is essential for delivering a good communications experience. Doing that requires a large network of data centers distributed around the world, which, obviously, isn’t easy to get up and running.”
- Mobility. “Mobile networks are getting better, but there’s still a lot of variability in network connection quality. Using one of Agora.io’s algorithms, a user could have fifty or sixty percent packet loss and they could still communicate over video.”
- Ubiquity. “Mobile phones are everywhere now, but that also means we have to support multiple generations of devices from many manufacturers that may run different variants of an operating system. It’s a complex problem to solve.”
Yativ is bullish on Agora.io’s prospects. The company already has over 200 employees spread across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and its corporate headquarters in Santa Clara, CA. Many of its customers – which include Xiaomi, Momo, and Hike – are based in Asia. But the company intends to expand to serve a more global customer base.
Yativ said the company sees opportunities in gaming, livestreaming, and messaging. There’s also an emerging class of social applications like Madison, WI-based Gravy, an interactive mobile shopping game show, which uses Agora.io for audio and video streaming. In 2016, IDC projected that in 2018 the U.S. video communications platform-as-a-service market would be $204.7 million annually. By 2020, that’s projected to be nearly $1.7 billion.
To date, Agora.io’s SDK has been installed on over half a billion mobile devices worldwide through its customers, and the company’s globally distributed network of 200 data centers facilitate over ten billion minutes of streaming communication per month.
Crunchbase News has learned that the company is beginning to court strategic investors and plans to raise its Series C round in the near future.
Updated: We updated a sentence about the company’s fundraising timeline.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias