Free WebRTC Video API in CPaaS. Is it worth it?

September 13, 2021

Are free minutes and accounts in WebRTC video API worth the trouble? I think not. Don’t choose your CPaaS vendor based on their “free” tier.

I am finalizing my 10th edition of Choosing a WebRTC API report these days. In the past year I’ve heard from a few vendors and developers questions about the free tiers in this space. So I took the time as part of this edition, to sit down and analyze the price plans of the various vendors in the market and create another article as part of the report (one that is available through the membership site for those who purchase the report).

In this article, I want to shine a light on one aspect of price plans in WebRTC APIs which is the free tier.

Let’s dive into things, shall we?

Free tier is optional

14 out of 24 vendors I looked at practice per minute pricing. Sometimes, they have multiple price strategies, but per minute pricing is the most common – especially on the bigger more widely known vendors.

Out of the 14 vendors, 5 offer free tiers in one way or another. And 2 offer credits – Amazon Chime SDK and Microsoft Azure Communication Services – these two offer IaaS cloud credits to startups as general practice and their CPaaS/WebRTC offering wraps into these as well (I’ve written about cloud giant effect on the CPaaS market last year).

👉 Not all WebRTC API vendors offer a free tier

👉 Free tiers seem to be almost “random” in who offers them and who doesn’t

Free depends on the plan 🤔

Some vendors have free plans that depend on different things.

For Twilio, for example, free minutes come only with their Twilio Video WebRTC Go service, which… amounts to ~$10/month, and offers a limited peer-to-peer experience.

With some vendors, the free plan is actually a limited free evaluation for 1-4 months in timeframe.

That said, the most popular alternative seems to be free minutes on a paid plan. You give your credit card, and will only be charged if you pass a number of minutes on a given month. More on that – in the next section.

👉 Free monthly minutes depend on the plan/feature set you choose/use

👉 It might also be dependent on what you pay (did we say free plan?)

10,000 free WebRTC minutes

Most vendors that give free minutes, are giving 10,000 free minutes per month.

Some give less. A few give more. The highest is 30,000 minutes per month.

If your service offers group calls of 10 participants for 30 minutes each time on average, then a single group call will take 300 minutes. That means ~33 such calls a month are free. Or a bit over a call a day.

This isn’t much. Not even for a small vendor just starting out. To be clear – this isn’t to say that 10,000 free minutes isn’t nice. Just that it won’t get you far.

👉 The number of free minutes offered may seem a lot, but calculated for a use case they aren’t that many

👉 Many small vendors see upwards of a million video minutes a month, so this amount to 1% of less of their total monthly minutes. Negligible in the long run

WebRTC video free tier? Money Time 💲💲💲

Minutes are nice, but how about money? How much money do you actually save with these free minutes?

I did the math. The numbers range between $30-$90 per month. Less than $1,000 per year.

If you are building a business and making your long term plans on the CPaaS vendor to use based on a potential discount of $1,000 a year then you’re doing it wrong.

Why aren’t CPaaS vendors offering higher free plans? Because they have costs they need to cover. Assuming a 10% cost over that price point, then 1,000 “free” accounts will cost them up to $100,000 a year to maintain. And that doesn’t include the support costs which are higher.

CPaaS vendors would like to have startups sample and use their service, but they also need to operate as a business and make money. Giving more minutes than they do today probably isn’t going to accomplish more paying customers – it will just bring in more free riders that will also leach on their soul and support resources.

👉 Free WebRTC video CPaaS plans worth less than $100/month

👉 When making your decision on choosing a vendor, ignore that plan in your own business plan

👉 As a CPaaS vendor, decide if you want such a free tier and what type of customers it is going to attract

How do you choose a WebRTC CPaaS vendor?

The answer to this question is definitely NOT through their free tiers or minutes…

To some extent, the decision is made these days via pricing. It is why I’ve written in this round of my report to include a special article dedicated to pricing of WebRTC calls in CPaaS services. This includes the leading metrics these platforms use for their price plans as well as price ranges for each vendor. For this analysis, I’ve also added Zoom Video SDK as another reference point for pricing.

The report itself introduces a new CPaaS vendor and removes another vendor. It also sports a new features set structure, one that is geared towards the changes in requirements made due to the pandemic.

This report is used today by:

  • CPaaS vendors themselves, who wish to understand their competitive landscape
  • Enterprises and startups who need to pick and choose a CPaaS vendor to work with
  • Companies who wish to start a CPaaS business or compete through an adjacency type solution
  • Investment first looking to understand the market and… make an investment decision

This month, until the report gets officially published, there’s a $500 discount. You can use coupon code API2021LAUNCH when you purchase the report.

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