Real Time Communications Featured Article

Lies & Statistics for Real Time Communications

June 08, 2015

Everyone loves numbers and the real time communications (RTC) world is no exception.  Vendors pick the biggest numbers possible to justify funding, generate headlines, and make themselves look like the dominant force over competitors while analysts are more than happy to SWAG (scientific wild-donkey guess) statistics on market sizes, growth trends, and how beautiful the world looks to the people who pay for their reports and advice.

If you haven't figured it out, I'm a skeptic of big numbers in the communications world, having seen firsthand the frightening way how year one data gets transmorgified into five year "hockey stick" growth data.  The Internet crash back in 2000 was fueled in part by models assuming all the fiber being installed everywhere would be consumed. Instead, we ended up with a fiber glut.

"How should we measure the size and popularity of a WebRTC PaaS," Tsahi Levent-Levi asked in a recent blog post.  His musings were sparked by Twilio's recent statement that it has over 700,000 developers.  Tsashi says Twilio is the "biggest player of them all" but also wonders how many of the 700,000 developers are active users as compared to people who just logged in once or twice and drove on to the next project.  (Remember the hundreds of millions of Skype userIDs cited as the Big Statistic back in the day? I do.)

Levent-Levi  suggests the cloud communications API industry needs to shift away from download-based stats and to engagement-based metrics, such as citing registered developer activity in the past month and how many active developer keys have been used to make WebRTC API calls in the past month? How many of those keys were used in production/paid use as compared to unpaid developer "sandbox" time?

via Shutterstock

Twilio says it has moved one billion WebRTC voice minutes through its client, reports Levent-Levi.  But he wants more detail --- and so would I.  How many of the minutes were WebRTC to WebRTC? How many of those minutes were cross-network between the PSTN and WebRTC clients? How many total sessions? Average session length? Does the session length increase over time or is it similar across customers using the platform?

A recent look at Internet trends in 2015 by Mary Meeker at Kleiner Perkins provides top-level information about messaging apps in terms of usage and sessions, but again, there's a need for more detail. More than six of the top 10 most used  apps globally are messaging applications.  The top 10 messaging apps  including Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram, LINE, Viber,  Kakao Talk, WeChat and Twitter.

What'sApp, bought for a king's ransom by Facebook, averages 30 billion messages a day. Compare that to LINE in Japan, which averages 13 billion messages sent per day or KakaoTalk averaging 5.2 billion messages per day. 

But how does What'sApp compare to LINE or KakoTalk on a country-by-country basis? Does LINE dominate Japan with WhatsApp only getting a fraction of messaging in the country?  Facebook Messenger now supports VoIP calls, so what percentage of traffic going through the app is voice? How much is simple text?

Today, RTC companies are getting by with a lot of impressive sounding statistics that they pick for themselves to frame the discussion with developers and customers.  In the future, buyers, analysts and the media are going to have to ask for more detail and specific metrics on RTC communications usage, rather than being simply spoon-fed random statistics that present the best face on a particular WebRTC or messaging platform. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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