The current scenario has brought with it a new set of challenges for organisations across all sectors. From providing individuals with the necessary healthcare, to ensuring that education continues undisrupted, organisations have adopted remote working tools to maintain the continuity of operations, and to meet necessary social distancing regulations.
A major facilitator of this much-needed continuity are platforms that provide voice, video and live interactive streaming. Agora.io is one such platform that has stepped up to meet this demand. Its voice, video, and messaging SDKs are embedded into mobile, web and desktop applications across more than 1.7 billion devices globally. The platform has seen a 300 percent growth in developer sign-ups from last quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2020, and the space is expected to bring the market’s compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to more than 19 percent.
Agora is headquartered in Santa Clara, CA and backed by venture capital firms Morningside, SIG, GGV Capital, ShunWei, and IDG.
To understand how such tools and platforms will influence consumer behaviour, their role in ensuring continuity and normalcy in these times, and the future of the industry, YourStory spoke to Tony Wang, Co-Founder at Agora.io and Ranga Jagannath, Director – Growth, India for Agora.io
YourStory [YS]: Could you tell us how the growth trajectory of the real-time video, audio and live streaming has changed since the pandemic?
Tony Wang [TW]: The pandemic has brought about a profound shift in human behavior. I won’t say that this shift will be to a purely virtual platform, as it is not possible nor is it healthy. Earlier, people would take up to three or four video calls. Now, they make a lot more of these calls, and they get tired, mainly due to the latency. Face-to-face conversations are more fluid as the brain does need to process the latency, missed out words or even background noise.
Which is why for the first time, low latency, real-time (video calling) is on people’s agenda. Earlier, people were happy with “good enough”. But now, the real-time aspect is important as people are living in it. That is a fundamental shift in the expectations in the space, and Agora’s SDKs will help platforms in building this ability.
YS: Globally, what new use cases has Agora.io seen emerging for the company’s products and solutions?
TW: While people realize that video calling is great, it may not currently fit all use cases. The future may see more such platforms embedded inside workflows. Say you are working on a Google Doc. You are not going to get out the document and launch a stand-alone video call application. Instead, you use the embedded feature in those documents, like Google Hangouts to collaborate over the document.
We are also seeing more acceptance on remote teams. I believe that since we have been forced to do remote working for six months, people will actually innovate and adjust a customer to a remote team. Remote teams have some new requirements and I think you will see a lot of collaboration, and platforms such as Airmeet, or Remote HQ coming out.
In that vein, the face of education will also be forever changed. Overall, we will see the trend moving towards online. Take K-12 for example: You want to protect the kids from the virus, but at the same time, you cannot give them, one-way, pre-recorded videos as students need to constantly be engaged, and that comes from two-way real time communication. Currently, only few can afford to access quality education. So, to truly change the landscape of Indian education, affordability is a must, which is what we believe we are doing.
The other thing that could be interesting is live shopping. This is already popular in China for certain categories like gadgets, cosmetics, light jewellery, and fashion. Because of Agora’s technology, the audience can participate as it is bi-directional and in real-time. I expect to see some breakthrough post the pandemic for one reason: the traffic is terrible. Rather than spend one hour on each way, just stay at home, save that trip and buy these things that will be delivered to your doorstep at a cheaper price.
I think all those things are very positive as they address the lack of physical infrastructure like roads, clean water, power, etc. We all have cellphones, and I think that is going to power the next generation’s progress.
YS: Could you tell us, from an Indian perspective, how various businesses and platforms are bringing much-needed continuity to the lives of people with voice, video and live interactive streaming?
Ranga Jagannath [RJ]: Education is definitely one sector where we saw platforms like Vedantu and upGrad as being able to reach out to the far-flung areas like the Northeast, which meant a lot of these states were able to continue education. There is a customer that is using our services to aggregate tuition centres across the country that were hit by the virus. And our platform enabled teachers to offer live, interactive classes.
A lot of Indian companies have started using our services for telemedicine. Currently the medical system is stretched, and priority is given to providing urgent care in hospitals and other care centres. But doctors are carrying out one-on-one consulting and diagnosing patients on our platform.
YS: Could you give us an example of new requirements that emerged in the pandemic and how Agora’s capabilities have met them?
TW: We have always held the belief that people will eventually go virtual. Our roadmaps are well planned and the pandemic has accelerated our customers’ adaptation of the technology. We have deployed more servers and bandwidth to accommodate the spikes in usage as the number of customers has exploded with different use cases that are coming up.
More emphasis is being placed on AI. Take education for example. You are a teacher who is teaching 7- to 9-year-olds that rarely pay attention. AI will tell you exactly which student is absent-minded. Because in a real classroom, it is hard to keep an eye on all 50 to 60 of them. With AI, you get specific feedback including who is frustrated and if so, at what point is the class frustrated? When that feedback comes in, the online experience is going to be more efficient.
The other would be noise cancellation. AI is playing a role by making a lot of things possible and providing a better virtual experience.
YS: What should be the priorities for someone looking to build a platform that requires integrated video/audio communication capabilities to provide maximum impact?
TW: I would be looking at the sustainability of the enterprise, and not just roll out something for these COVID-19 times, and pretend the world is going to stop meeting face-to-face. The move to virtual will happen at a slower pace.
The other thing is looking at the monetisation model: Is this a vitamin, or a painkiller? I can make do without a vitamin, but I need painkillers at times. Having a painkiller mindset allows you to focus on the needs of a very small, narrow niche. If you categorise video tools: they are based around work, and off-work situations like entertainment and dating. And if you are doing something around work, you are competing with the likes of Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc., that have infinite funding and teams that are ready to bring out developments on the go. So you have to define your niche, and know how to defend it.
I believe there will be more Indian voices addressing Indian needs. There is time for Indian people after the pandemic abates to start thinking about this, and figure out how startups can do something that will address Made in India, built for India and address Indian concerns.
YS: How do you see the future of the voice, video and live interactive streaming space evolving in the future?
TW: We see apps and platforms are promoting each other. New apps demand more features like real-time capabilities, more people in one room, global coverage, and adult filtering. Such features are heavily based on AI, and those requests trickle down to the network leaders. We at Agora are improving those, and providing more abilities. We released a feature that provides beautification of your voice so that audiences will be attentive. And so this demand and supply influence each other to keep things pushing forward, which makes it very healthy and very exciting as you can then see technology evolve very fast. And at the end of the day, it is going to benefit all cultures as Agora’s network is global, and that is going to be faster after the pandemic.
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