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Analysis EO
Jun 17, 2020 03:45 pm ·

Real-Time Communication Supporter Agora.io Files for IPO on NASDAQ

► Agora.io's CEO Zhao Bing served as CTO of JOYY, whose business is featured by RTC products. ► With a dollar-based expansion rate of 130+% in 2018 and 2019, Agora.io is scaling up. ► Agora.io's key clients, who are capable of developing RTC independently, contributed substantially to its revenue. ► IaaS providers like Alibaba Cloud step into API services to compete with companies like Agora.io. The seven-year-old Shanghai-based RTC (Real-Time Communication) BaaS (Backend-as-a-Service) company Agora.io (声网) plans to raise USD 100 million from its IPO on NASDAQ. BaaS is an intermediate architecture between PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) and SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) aiming to meet the rapid development needs and provide backend capabilities as services. Being a BaaS company, Agora.io provides real-time communication solutions for application developers. With its SDK (Software Development Kit) and RTC products such as audio/video chat, live streaming, recording and instant messaging, Agora.io has built business partnerships with OPPO, Xiaomi, Lenovo and other companies at different development stages. The company was founded in 2013 by Chinese entrepreneur Zhao Bin (赵斌). Prior to his CEO position at Agora.io, Zhao was the former CTO of YY.com (YY语音), a subsidiary of JOYY (欢聚集团, YY:NASDAQ). JOYY is a communication group featuring live streaming products including YY.com, Huya TV and Bigo.live. The company has attracted millions of users and it has a strong presence in the gaming live streaming industry in China. Meanwhile, it is stretching to overseas markets. With decades of experience in real-time communications services, Zhao founded Agora to provide RTE PaaS services for app companies or independent developers.  The real-communication services’ market is scaling up, with increasing user interactions within apps and in IoT scenarios. According to IDC, the communication PaaS market is forecasted to grow from USD 3.3 billion in 2018 to USD 17.2 billion in 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of 39.3%. With ongoing commercial adoptions of the 5G technology and increasing Internet penetration rate, the demand for RTC services will accordingly grow. Being an enterprise services company, Agora.io’s net-dollar expansion rates in 2018 and 2019 were 135% and 127% respectively. Meanwhile, Agora.io’s competitor Twilio (TWLO:NYSE) reported a net-dollar expansion rate of 140% and 136% for the years ending December 31, 2018 and 2019. However, the standards defining active users/customers vary from case to case: Agora.io’s active users are those that generated more than USD 100 in the preceding 12 months, while Twilio treats users that have spent at least USD 5 in the last month of the period as active. While the median of enterprise services companies’ dollar expansion rate fluctuates at 100%, Agora.io is performing above par. Excepting competitors from the same industry, Agora.io faces pressure from IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) providers like Tencent Cloud and Alibaba Cloud. The online conference product Tencent Meeting that has high requirements on RTC services is supported by Tencent Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud provides RTC services on its platform, which is a better development ecosystem for application makers. Agora.io’s revenue levels were USD 44 million and USD 64 million for the years 2018 and 2019. For the same period, its top ten customers yielded substantial portions of its revenue, 51% and 38% respectively. The decreased portion implies that either Agora.io introduced more accounts or failed to retain key customers. The former cause decreases Agora.io’s reliance on top clients and lowers the risk of depending on key accounts. The later may hint that key customers, who employ Agora.io’s RTC services intensively, are driven to build their own RTC solutions to reduce the cost, or, simply, its competitors have won trust from its clients. For big companies that purchase RTC services on a large scale, there is the incentive and capability to develop solutions on their own. Agora.io’s ideal customers are small-to-medium developers – they need RTC solutions but cannot develop the function because of limited resources. RTC solutions and other APIs (application programming interfaces) help to create a development environment where developers can focus on projects and speed up the process.

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May 24, 2019 01:18 am ·

Agora.io Catching the Wave of Live Streaming

Eric Yuan left WebEx Communication to fund Zoom Video Communications (NASDAQ: ZM), pushing a USD 23 billion dollar public company into the spotlight. Additionally, another former employee at WebEx named Tony Zhao built Agora.io in 2014. Both companies are leading real-time voice and video providers, providing unique communication platforms for users. Zoom focuses on video conferencing while Agora.io mainly serves mobile applications. Agora built a network of over 200,000 developers, adopting a developer-centric approach. This enabled them to add voice chat, video chat and real-time broadcasting features to their apps within 30 minutes in addition to making the platform easily customizable. Most customers are in the gaming, social, retail and education sectors. After the first 10,000 minutes, customers pay USD 0.99 per 1,000 minutes for voice communication and audio broadcast calls, or USD 3.99 per 1,000 minutes for video communication and broadcast calls (with additional fees for high-volume). Agora powers more than 300 million minutes of communications per day and has passed two billion SDK installs in September 2018, becoming the most widely adopted API for real-time communication in the world. Among others, the company is backed by Coatue Management, SIG, GGV Capital and Morningside, and had raised USD 125 million to date. Overview of the CPaaS market Currently, interactions between mobile app users or between users and companies are more dynamic than ever, driven by the proliferation of connected devices and applications. Today’s communication takes place via any device (including mobile, tablets, laptops and so on) and any format (including SMS, email, voice, video and so on). To create and maintain high-quality real-time voice and video call capabilities, tech giants BAT can leverage their resources to build the real-time network infrastructure and interface with common programming languages. However, the cost and time commitment does not make sense to smaller mobile app providers that use those functions as a mere add-on service, especially to start-ups without the in-house technical expertise that this would require. To outsource such features, existing solutions include uniformed communication (UC) models, in addition to Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) and Communication platform as a service (CPaaS). UC platforms are on-premise, hardware deployments that businesses use to run service on their own data centers and server racks. The latter two solutions each fall into the SaaS and PaaS categories with cloud-based delivery models. As businesses continue to migrate more work and job functions to the cloud, UCaaS and CPaaS offer cost advantages. Similar to the difference between SaaS and PaaS, UCaaS is suitable for companies looking for finished solutions while CPaaS allows for more customization and serves as a back-end communication infrastructure that allows organizations to add real-time communication features to their applications by deploying API. The CPaaS markets in both the US and China were originally driven by startups such as Twilio (NYSE: TWLO) and Agora. While it is a nascent market today, according to Statista, the global CPaaS market is expected to hit USD 8 billion in 2019. In 2018, the United States and Europe currently hold the largest share and the APAC market is expected to lead the global compound growth rate of 27% from 2017 to 2027. We anticipate multiple years of growth for the market, in part because an increasing number of social and gaming apps are likely to add real-time interactive features to compete for user engagement time. Further, traditional healthcare and education platforms are moving both their core and supporting functions to mobile. Agora’s global expansion path While many Chinese tech firms rely on local advantages and low prices to combat competition with overseas software providers, Agora aims to develop technology comparable to other global players. Over 90% of their employees are working in the R&D department and have more than 10 years of experience. Agora is headquartered in Santa Clara and has offices in Beijing and Shanghai. The company has developed well-established relationships with companies in both countries. We note that placing R&D employees in China, like Zoom does, incurs low costs for the company while reducing the rising risks of the US-China trade war since the core team is based in the US headquarters. Despite the fact that Agora’s platform serves clients globally, its current clients are mostly small and medium-sized businesses located in the United States as well as corporations of various sizes in China. Moving forward, the company looks to scale its product by developing localized strategies to acquire customers in more markets, including India, Japan and major European countries. Consistency, scale, speed and quality create customer value proposition Agora leverages deep learning algorithms to achieve industry-leading standards of low latency and high definition. The high-quality transmission rate is 97.3%. Further, 98.5% of real-time large-scale interaction is delayed within 200 milliseconds. To solve the pain points of traditional solutions regarding latency, network overhead, noise, delay and packet dropouts, Agora addressed the challenges in three ways: 1) optimization of network instability. While traditional conference systems perform well on corporate networks, they do not work so well on public networks with poor Internet connections. Agora’s technology is capable of handling a variety of environments including Starbucks cafés and even cities in India with 2G networks 2) communication optimization, which eliminates background noise, echos and other issues occurring during calls 3) terminal adaptation, which delivers a seamless experience for users with different mobile devices. Besides software, global network infrastructure is also crucial to a CPaaS provider, as one of the biggest challenges of real-time communication services is transoceanic transmissions, like from US to China, where packet loss is easily incurred. To combat such issues, Agora has deployed more than 65 data centers and nearly one thousand servers around the world and is expected to have more than 100 data centers this year. Further, they have created their own proprietary virtual network with distribution centers around the world. Those centers have their own transmission routing paths to avoid packet loss and to ensure the quality of real-time data transmission across continents, countries and carriers, something ideal for businesses with the needs of global expansion. We believe that Agora has meaningful technological competitive advantages that would be difficult for competitors to replicate. Additionally, the user-friendly, essentially self-servicing model makes it easy for businesses to implement. A natural starting point from the social apps Aroga’s story started with Tony Zhao, the former Chief Technology Officer of YY.com which relies heavily on high-quality video conferencing capabilities to provide large-scale broadcasting for concerts, sports competitions, live gaming, and online karaoke. Thus, such a vertical naturally applied to Agora when Tony started the company. Luckily, 2016 and 2017 were explosive years for live streaming content in China and Agora caught the wave to serve Douyu and Huya (NYSE: HUYA), two top gaming streaming platforms in China. Viewers can not only watch the live broadcast, but can also engage with competition by sharing their cheers and screams with the broadcast host and other audience members, creating a sense of virtual competition. Additionally, Agora serves game developers directly, including Vainglory, Gravy, Xiamoi Mi Combat and Mobile Legends. As the lucrative gaming sector gears itself more towards mobile, developers are looking for ways to boost in-game engagement and monetization without jeopardizing the mobile experience. Voice is the only way to communicate when gamers are on online mobile games and Agora’s gaming-focused features including group chat, 3-D spatial audio, live interactive broadcasting. AR/VR implementations create a similar experience that gamers would have on console and PC games. Besides, Agora is behind a variety of commonly used social and dating apps such as China’s Momo, America’s The Meet Group and India’s Hike Messenger. While users used online messaging communication and organized offline meetings before, adding the new real-time video feature relieve some concerns for users and allow them to build higher trust on the platforms. For example, Geoff Cook, the CEO of The Meet Group, revealed in an interview that over 25% of the company’s DAU have been using the voice and video features on a daily basis. We also expect more E-commerce businesses to adopt real-time communication technologies. As competition intensifies, E-commerce players are moving away from traditional marketing channels and are taking live broadcasting strategies. Buyers who are tired of reading long product descriptions can gain more information from images and can have a visual impression and a comprehensive understanding of products. Further, they can interact with sellers in real time. Low latency and high quality are the key factors that Agora can ensure when companies connect with viewers. Agora’s newly-released E-commerce solutions are adopted by domestic and overseas E-commerce including Gravy.Line, Bulbul.tv and Kumu. That aside, we acknowledge that mobile apps needing embedded in-app voice and video in their existing applications have a foreseeable ceiling. Also, apps without enough live broadcasting traffic are unlikely to contribute predictable revenue streams due to Agora’s pay-as-you-go pricing model. Hence, we believe that expanding services to more business applications is necessary to drive broader usage and diversify risks. Expand addressable customer base to various industry verticals In September 2018, the number of newly registered projects on Agora doubled. Further, minutes used more than tripled YOY, driven by more industry coverage, including education, healthcare, security, IoT and so on. For example, Agora’s education platform allows VIPKid, TAL Education and other institutions to conduct live interactive teaching sessions to both small, intimate groups and mass audiences. Furthermore, over the past year, Agora SDK has integrated into IoT devices such as AR glasses, smartwatches and smart cameras. While IoT is still relatively new, the business has been making material progress. For example, kids’ smartwatches leverage Agora’s SDK to implement video call services on watch devices. Such applications require more advanced technologies in comparison to social entertainment apps; thus, special optimization is needed.

Analysis EO
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Analysis EO
Apr 12, 2019 05:52 pm ·

How Agora.io Became the Leading Player in Video and Voice

In the online world, achieving a stable and high-quality communication is of vital importance to both developers and users. Agora.io would offer solutions to these kinds of problems. Founded in 2014, Agora.io is a service provider for global real-time voice and video. Its core technology is real-time communication (RTC), which uses real-time voice and video service as well as online broadcasts to create a scenario which is similar to offline communication. As a developer, it could connect to Agora’s API in a short time, and apply it to scenarios such as video communication, interaction-broadcast, online gaming voice, and AR cooperation. Market Overview of RTC In 2017, the number of the 3G/4G base station reached 4.62 million, and the total length of the optical cable line reached 374.7 million kilometers. According to the Ministry of industry and information technology, by the end of April 2018, the 4G network would cover more than 99% of China. As the Internet infrastructure system matures and the market environment becomes increasingly systematic, the RTC business will keep developing in the future. The communication cloud is a pay-on-demand service and has high flexibility which attracts more customers. By the end of 2017, communication cloud service targeting the Chinese market was 981.5 million households, with a YOY growth of 12.7%. The increasing amount of the market subject leads to more real-time communication users. In 2017, real-time communication users were 700 million which occupied 93.3% of the total Internet users. With the change of user habits, more and more new communication methods are developing including real-time voice and video communication, IM, cloud customer service, etc. On the other hand, the total market size of the IM cloud service, in terms of PaaS level, is CNY 760 million. With the increasing development of mobile social media, short videos, and social E-commerce, the market will keep expanding. According to i-Research, from 2017 to 2020, the CAGR of the market size would be 20.5%, and by the end of 2020, the total market size would be CNY 1.3 billion. The IM PaaS relies on the development of the Internet start-ups, and after 2020, the increasing rate of the market would be slower than before with a CAGR of about 16.9%. It is estimated that by the end of 2022, the total market size would be CNY 1.8 billion. Agora’s story The Agora.io began from an underground garage in Silicon Valley. A group of programmers designed Agora and expected to use the ADI of real-time voice and video interaction service to change the way people communicate. Gradually, Agora built the software-defined real-time Internet, SD-RTN, which is specifically used for real-time communication. Currently, Agora is offering more than 10 billion minutes of real-time voice and video services for global developers and has more than 200 million installations in more than 200 countries. Tony Zhao (赵斌), who is the founder and CEO of Agora, used to lead the foundation of 2 Nasdaq listed companies. In 1997, ZHAO joined Webex as the founding engineer, and the company was acquired by CISCO in 2007 at USD 3.2 billion. Currently, Webex is still the largest technology provider of the Internet interaction meeting. In 2007, ZHAO joined YY (a company listed on NASDAQ in Nov 2012 with a valuation of approximately USD 5 billion) as its CTO. In 2014, Agora was founded and aims to provide high-quality real-time communication service for App developers. There are about 90% of engineers in the total employees of Agora, Zhao said. Therefore, the Agora invested a lot on the research and development to try to provide better products for developers. Currently, the charge standard for developers is $0.99 per 10000 minutes. As for customized services, the charge would be changed. Agora’s charge might be closer to the average level of the industry, but since what it offers is a more stable RTC with lower energy consumption, Agora still attracts lots of customers including Xiaomi, Momo, Douyu, and Huya, which are famous companies that have requirements on the RTC service. Financing History Agora finished its A round of financing with USD 6 million in Feb 2014 led by Shunwei Capital, which is a venture capital company from Xiaomi Group. It’s no wonder Xiaomi became one of the largest customers of Agora. On Sep 17, 2015, Agora completed its series B financing with USD 20 million. Famous investors joined this round of financing, including SIG, GGV, Chenxing Capital, IDG and YY. Old shareholders, Shunwei Capital, also joined this round of financing. On Nov 2018, Agora completed its B+ round of financing with USD 30 million, which was led by Coatue Management, SIG, Chenxing Capital, Shunwei Capital joined this financing. According to ZHAO, Coatue made the investment decision within 2 weeks, which showed the strong confidence of Coatue to Agora. The money financed will help to strengthen and consolidate the leading rank of Agora. According to ZHAO, Agora would keep increasing its R&D investment on real-time communication products and increase the consumption experience of voice and video communication products. In addition, Agora will help more industries to use RTC technology to better themselves. Plus, Agora will provide more products and services to developers, to better its innovation experience. Finally, Agora will strengthen cooperation with its ecological chain partners and offer more commercial values to enterprises. During the past 2 years of commercialization, Agora grew rapidly. Currently, its daily communication volume is more than 300 million minutes, which generates great cash flow for the company. There are more than 200 employees of Agora and they are located in Silicon Valley, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Tokyo, and Bangalore. With its global influence and strong expanding strategies, Agora has a leading market share of the broadcast industry. Almost all of the head players of the broadcast in North America, Europe, India, China, Middle East, and Southeast Asia are using the Agora’s RTC technology. ZHAO said that going overseas is one of the most important businesses of Agora and currently, Agora has built a strong strategic cooperation relationship with famous overseas enterprises such as The Meet Group, Hike Messenger, Musical.ly and V-cube. Currently, its real-time video and voice communication SDK of Agora has become the most popular SDK among developers of the real-time communication industry. Future Strategy of Agora ZHAO said that Agora is actively promoting its business in many different industries such as education, social media, gaming, IoT, and medical care. In the future, Agora would keep focusing on these industries and use its RTC technology to help them. In the education field, Agora published a solution to support high-defined and stable interaction between teachers and students. In addition, Agora cooperated with education enterprises such as Air Course and Homework box to publish a “mini class” mode, which guarantees that every student would be paid attention to while teaching in a stable and fluent interaction. In the IoT industry, stability and low energy-consumption are important factors while the smart hardware interacts with each other. From this point, Agora published an SDK with low energy-consumption and is specifically designed for intelligent hardware. Now this SDK has applied to Xiaomi's smart speaker, which ranks 1st in terms of the sales volume of the smart speakers, and GLEXX ME, the AR Glass, is made by llVision. Agora also paid a lot of attention to the medical care industry. For remote medical treatment, it requires high technology that guarantees high-quality videos keeps smooth communication. Currently, Agora is exploring the “super-resolution”, which makes use of deep learning to improve its resolution ratio of the videos and better the quality of real-time video and voice. The super-resolution is a combination of AI and RTC technology, which is mainly applied to the transferring process and aims to restore video quality and increase the resolution. Due to the bandwidth and the performance of the devices, the video quality may be lower. ZHAO said that Agora has developed the algorithm model which could generate crisp details of the video while running on low energy. Agora also wants to serve the enterprises for their overseas expansion. The RTC technology is becoming increasingly important for the overseas expansion of the enterprises, the low delay, stable transportation rate, and the high quality are the core factors for RTC. ZHAO said that Agora has already established its own SD-RTN network which has a de-centralization structure. That could guarantee the flexibility of the transportation and the quality of the videos. In addition, Agora has developed the "Agora Solo X", an audio codec, and the algorithm, last mile, to promote the quality of customer experience. In addition, the Agora’s SDK supports more than 16 developing languages and structures including Android, iOS, and Linux. Agora has a strong interest in helping with the overseas expansion of enterprises, ZHAO said that, currently, Agora has settled several offices in different parts of the world, and the companies that Agora helped include Huya, Longteng Game, IIVision. Struggling Market Situation It’s not easy for a company like Agora to survive in the real-time communication industry, especially when magnates such as Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba are expanding. Tencent, for example, has developed several kinds of games which require RTC technology for the players to communicate. As the largest game company, Tencent developed QT voice, which is specifically used for the communication between the Tencent game users. In this way, a large market share was occupied in the gaming area, and it becomes increasingly tough for Agora to enlarge. On the other hand, Tencent also owns Wechat, which is the most popular communication software in China. The RTC technology of Wechat is developed solely by Tencent, as well. Although Agora is targeting to the business side, the magnates could use its strong users base and great resources to occupy more market share, which makes it harder to explore the new market. However, new technology such as 5G may bring new opportunities to Agora. ZHAO used to say on the MWC 2019 that Agora is exploring and developing 5G-related technologies in order to match 5G’s telecom bandwidth. Once Agora mastered the better technology that is suitable for the 5G telecom, it may explore a special way to occupy the market share of RTC. Meanwhile, Agora’s technology can be applied to other fields. For example, one of China's top commercial banks has cooperated with Agora to establish a new recording system, which helps the customer to record their voice and video while opening an account. Another excellent way for Agora to maintain success is by exploring customized application ways. Chongqing city has published 120 interaction first-aid services. After calling the 120, the users could have real-time video communication with the doctors and start first-aid for those who are injured. The SDK for this kind of service is developed by Agora. In the future, more and more government-related services may use RTC technology, which generated a lot of opportunities for Agora to develop customized services. The real-time communication service is of vital importance in our society, but the efficiency and the quality of the video and voice are critical. The AI algorithm and the super-resolution technology bring a large space for us to imagine the future of Agora, and the customized service may give an extra market share for this engineer-leaded company.