What Is Twilio? An Intro to the Cloud Communications Platform

One of the most important things for your businesses success is how it communicates with its customers. In today’s busy world, nobody have time for waiting, especially when it comes to getting services. Everybody wants instant support, quick response, and smooth communication. For a long time, there was a struggle how to be efficient in communication with customers and satisfy them. 

But all this changed with Twilio, a cloud based service that enables powerful communication between mobile devices, applications, services, and systems throughout the business in order to bridge the gap between conventional (legacy) communications.

The prospect of better communication tools has led the company to some very high profile clients, which includes Salesforce, Nordstrom, Uber, eBay, Intuit, Sony, Shopify and Zendesk, all of whom integrate Twilio features into their apps.

In this article, I’ll cover Twilio in-depth. We’ll begin with an explanation of what it is, give an overview of its products, and tell you which customers are best-suited for this service. Let’s begin!

What is Twilio?

Founded in 2008 in the San Francisco area, Twilio is considered a cloud communications platform as a service or CPaaS. It empowers online businesses with telecommunications features. 

One of its promises is to rid businesses of the messy telecom hardware by providing a telephony infrastructure web service via a globally available cloud Application Programmable Interface or APIs, allowing developers to use standard web languages to integrate voice, video or messaging into their web, mobile and traditional phone applications.

Let’s say, you want to develop an app and you want to use your customer’s cell phone to authenticate, you could do so through Twilio’s programmable SMS. Within a few clicks, you’d add that functionality to your app.

Founders John Wolthius, Evan Cooke, and Jeff Lawson created Twilio to offer call functionality in the cloud. That occurred the year they started. Two years later, by 2010, Twilio had added a text messaging API to its list of services, and by 2011, SMS short codes. Despite initial competition, the apps based on it began to achieve significant success. One called GroupMe was purchased by Skype for $85 million; Beluga was acquired by Facebook. Today, it powers communication for over 150,000 companies around the globe (including the giants mentioned above). It continues to grow quickly with over 2,500 employees and more than 5 million developers using the service.

Twilio provides many of its products on a per-use basis to its customers. The customers pre-pay for services, such as minutes, SMS messages, phone numbers, transcriptions, etc., and the company will deduct from their account balance as they are used. Customers get notified by email when their balance hits $5 and again when their balance reaches $0. When the account reaches $0, it will be suspended. The company generates over $650 million per year in annual revenue.

Twilio features

Twilio allows you to implement any kind of communication into your app. Let’s review the most essential ones.

Programmable Voice

Twilio programmable voice utilizes the brand’s Voice API, with which you can make, receive calls anywhere and anytime from a phone, app, and even an Internet browser. Twilio promises these calls to have clear audio and less latency by using global data center routing. 

This fully programmable VoIP system supports coding languages and programs like Android, Apple, Ruby, PHP, Java, Quickstart, C#, and Python. Key features include:

  • Contact center building blocks like interactive voice response, skills-based routing, outbound conference API, warm transfers, agent coaching, and agent conferences
  • Advanced media handling with dual-channel recording, call encryption and recording, answering machine detection (determine if an outbound call made has reached a live person, answering machine, or fax), natural language understanding, and speech recognition
  • Connections via SIP registration, SIP trunking, SIP interface, mobile VoIP, web-based VoIP, landline calls, and mobile calls
  • Third-party API add-ons, among them IceHook, Nomorobo, VoiceBase, and IBM Watson
  • Voice basics like call queues building, conference calling (up to 250 participants), text-to-speech, call transcripts and audio recordings

Rates change based on which country calls and texts are sent and received. Let’s look at the prices inside the US, for example. For local connectivity, clients are charged $0.0085 per minute to receive calls, and $0.0130 per minute to make calls. If they set up a toll-free number, which are phone numbers that are free for callers, clients are charged $0.0220 per minute to receive calls, and $0.0130 per minute to make calls.

For programmable call recording clients pay $0.0025/min for a recording and $0.05/min for transcription. For recording storage, the first ten-thousand minutes are stored for free and storage of additional minutes cost $0.0005/min per month. While basic conference calling is free, global conferencing costs $0.0018/participant per minute. I guess this much info will be enough to get you started for more info visit here.

Programmable SMS

Another service from Twilio (also one of their better-known one), their Programmable SMS utilizes the brand’s SMS API. You can use the service to build innovative messaging experiences for your users, whether it is sending instant transaction notifications for money transfers, food delivery alerts, or helping millions of people with the parking tickets. This programmable SMS/MMS product uses programming languages like PHP, Java, C#, Ruby, Quickstart, and Python. 

You can access phone numbers in over thirty countries, with Twilio taking care of the ever-changing telecom logic and carrier specific rules for you. Making sure that your message reaches its destination.

The full list of SMS/MMS features through Twilio includes:

  • Message expiration settings
  • Intelligent concatenation
  • Message queuing
  • Smart encoding
  • Scalers
  • Support for any character
  • Sticky sending
  • Recipient Geomatch based on area code
  • Short Codes in US, CA, and UK
  • MMS numbers for Canadian and US users

Local numbers costs $0.0075 to receive or send a message. That price goes up to $0.01 to receive, and $0.02 to send, a picture message.

Customers that sign up for short code phone numbers pay $3,000 over three months, and pay an additional $0.005 to receive a message and $0.01 to send one. That price goes up to $0.01 to receive, and $0.02 to send, a picture message. Toll free numbers cost $2 a month, plus $0.0075 to receive or send a message. 

Programmable Wireless

Programmable Wireless is the 3rd programmable service from the brand. With it you can use the IoT (Internet of Things) to track and manage your cellular services. You can do so either from the Twilio API or even the Twilio Console. Again, you’ll need to know programming languages (the ones mentioned many times above) to use this service.

If you visit this service’s page on the official site of Twilio, under the section “Why Programmable Wireless?” Twilio has listed a number of benefits of this service such as you can obtain x.509 certificates for your SIM cards via Twilio’s Trust Onboard, once you use the Twilio SIM, you can reach out to 180+ countries. Also, you get your own private virtual network, which links to the cloud.

Furthermore, you gain access to Twilio’s usage data and analytics (enabling you to easily debug and diagnose connectivity issues) as well as their Commands API (using which you can send and receive Machine-to-Machine commands via the SMS channel).

Pricing starts at $2 per SIM per month and data usage charges are based on the rate plan selected; Pay as you go ($0.1/MB) or Quota-based. Also, you are charged $0.0050 per command.

Twilio WhatsApp API

Over 65 million messages are exchanged using WhatsApp everyday. If you already use the most popular instant messaging app for your business, then you might try its API for the communication service. They say you can link up with over a billion leads and customers despite carrier, device, and mobile operating system.

All messages have end-to-end encryption and an HTTPS security, enabling private conversations with your users. You can even use a branded business identity to deepen customer trust with your company. Other features that might interest you include:

  • User Verification and 2FA
  • Customer support with a sales team
  • Alerts and notifications at message arrival

Pricing for WhatsApp messaging with Twilio can vary, depending upon the type of message (Template messages and Session messages) and destination. 

WhatsApp Template messages are outbound messages sent via Twilio that use one of the pre-approved templates. These are generally unsolicited transactional messages (delivery alerts, appointment reminders, etc.) sent to users who have opted in to receive messages from you. Twilio charges a flat fee of $0.005 per message for all WhatsApp messaging. This applies to all incoming messages, outbound Template and Session messages. WhatsApp also charges a per-message fee to send outbound Template messages. This fee may vary, depending on the destination country or region.

Session messages are all incoming messages, or outgoing replies to these messages within 24-hours. A messaging session starts when a user sends your application a message, and lasts for 24 hours from the most recently received message. Session messages do not need to follow a template, and can include media attachments. Session messages are only charged the Twilio flat fee of $0.005 per message, regardless of direction or destination. WhatsApp does not charge any fees for Session messages; your total message cost for any Session message will only be $0.005.

Authy

Twilio acquired Authy (a two-factor authentication startup) back in 2015. And, then introduced it as one of their services. This app and API uses push authentication to elevate your security and enhance UX. According to Twilio, this authentication provides more security than traditional methods, even using a password.

Authy has soft tokens, a means of authentication even if a user can’t receive an SMS or doesn’t have data or goes offline. These soft tokens provide a single-use password known as a TOTP (time based one time password). Another service you might use under Authy is their SMS and Voice. These provide further means of authentication that might provide more security over traditional passwords. Visit here to take a look at its pricing. 

SendGrid

Twilio acquired SendGrid (a Denver, Colorado-based customer communication platform) too, and still uses it today. With this powerful cloud-based SMTP email service provider, you can reliably send and receive mass emails without managing an SMTP server. It is able to manage various types of emails such as friend requests, shipping notifications, email newsletters, and sign-up confirmations.

According to Twilio, those familiar with programming languages (you know which ones), can get started in just a few minutes. With these languages, you make client libraries and development frameworks that allow you to tailor your emails anyway you want.

Moreover, there are other things you can do such as track customer history, email activity (via a live feed), and use Event Webhooks to see who’s engaging with you. 

They offer a free plan with first forty-thousand emails free for 30 days and then 100 emails/day forever. Their paid plans start at $14.95/mo.

Twilio Flex

Meant to help medium and large businesses manage their communication with customer, Twilio Flex is a contact center platform that uses the cloud for setup ease and scalability. Flex is omnichannel and highly-customizable, you can make changes to any part of its interface with programmable building blocks and API.

There are two pricing options: Named user per-seat pricing: Twilio charges a flat monthly rate of $150 for each seat. Active user per-hour pricing: Twilio charges a flat $1 per-hour rate for active users.

Should You Use Twilio for Your Business?

So, now that you know what it is, what are its essential features and how much each costs, let’s discuss whether it suits your business needs. 

If you’re a company that regularly makes apps, then you should have no problems adapting Twilio’s API and other features. Businesses that deal in web development should also find it easy to implement their knowledge of coding languages to Twilio. This gives you the freedom to integrate Twilio’s many services into your platform. Do know that, as of this writing, Twilio lacks a business phone system. That might be detrimental for some businesses.

Unless you have coding experts or developers in your company, though, then Twilio probably isn’t the right fit. Some small and mid-sized businesses might struggle to grasp the more complicated tech knowledge requisite for Twilio.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. While Twilio offers a range of great services, they’re not the only company of their kind out there. If you want something that relies less on coding knowledge, you can probably find another solution for your company.