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Ten minutes with: Twilio

Member News published by Twilio

Twilio, the company that is democratizing access to communications tech, introduces themselves to the CW community after joining as a member this autumn.

Find out more about Twilio

How long has your company been in operation, and what was the inspiration for its founding?

Over a decade ago, Twilio set out to help democratize access to those technologies that power what’s arguably the most important aspect of doing business: communications. Thanks to Twilio, what used to be the technological sovereignty of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and specialized telecom engineers, such as placing automated phone calls with IVR logic behind it, or sending and receiving SMS messages, is now at the fingertips of any mainstream developer that can call an API.

Today, we have achieved massive scale in communications, with over 100 billion messages sent or received each year, over 25 billion phone calls, over 1 trillion (!) emails, and powering 580,000 call centre agents around the world. We have also seen a surge in usage across the platform in response to COVID-19, including a more than 850% increase in peak concurrent participants on our video products.

Our move to IoT is fueled by the same desire, to help democratize access to communications technologies. This time it is about those that open the next chapter of digital transformation – communications with things. We started our IoT journey over 5 years ago. Our vision is to make the physical world programmable; just like we did with human-to-human communication, we want to empower developers to turn problems of the physical world into “software problems”, so that we can unleash the creativity of the developer community.

What is special about your company’s products / services?

When we dug into the space, we saw that a huge challenge was getting reliable cellular connectivity for devices – especially when they are leaving your home territory. That includes testing and prototyping, deploying internationally with low data latency, avoiding network steering, and managing connectivity without the hassle of manual work such as emailing spreadsheets of SIM IDs to MNOs.

To address these issues and more, we built Twilio Super SIM, our cellular IoT connectivity platform. With Super SIM, we stayed true to the Twilio DNA, which is to enable developers. And that means offering powerful APIs. So now for the first time, IoT device builders could programmatically provision new SIMs and manage fleets across a large array of roaming networks through a single SIM (thus a single product SKU), but without the contractual bindings that were common back then, and without the headaches of managing multiple MNOs for different regional connectivity needs.

A key component of any wireless network is the mobile core, which manages who may connect and how data flows through the network. Unfortunately, these cores are rarely dedicated to IoT use cases; they were designed and built to connect our smartphones! So at Twilio, we set out to build our own, with a truly cloud-based architecture; we call it the Distributed IoT Mobile Core. It is both distributed around the world, and solely serving IoT use cases, which makes it perform much better than traditional mobile cores. 

And being who we are, we also offered a completely different customer care experience for how our customers do business with us. Ask anyone that isn’t in the Fortune 100, and they’ll tell you how hard it is to even get a sales representative on the phone for IoT connectivity questions – let alone technical support. So we changed all that. And that is a blessing for our customers. 

What is your company currently working on?

There is so much more to simplify and democratize in IoT than just access to reliable and scalable cellular connectivity. It takes more than just adding a SIM card and a cellular modem, so we also need to help embedded engineers who are more and more getting into building connected devices but are faced with solving foundational problems first.

So in addition to our cellular IoT connectivity platform, we invested into what we call device builder platforms, by acquiring Electric Imp in 2019. The team at Electric Imp has been helping businesses such as Eaton or Pitney Bowes with connecting previously unconnected hardware for years, and so we could learn tons about where the challenges lie – from securing the entire stack from the silicon to the cloud, to getting a reliable over-the-air code update capability – and how to best overcome them. One of the things that team also let us do was introduce dedicated IoT professional services: we call it IoT Accelerator. This rounds up our product offerings.

Which among your recent announcements is your company most proud of?

Hardware has evolved during the last few years; there is now a powerful new architecture, called TrustZone® by Arm®, that allows us to decouple the firmware that brings a device to life in the first place, from the code that provides Internet connectivity. When this became available for microcontrollers (MCUs), we decided it was time to enter the market with an entirely new platform for builders of connected devices, with a focus on MCUs. We call it Twilio Microvisor, and the market reception when we announced it at our last customer conference SIGNAL in October 2020, and more recently the first API and hardware documentation drop, was phenomenal. Microvisor gives embedded engineers what they need: a simple way to get their device connected securely, get secure firmware OTA capability, remote debugging, and managed security – all while leaving everything else in place as it was, so they can re-use any existing firmware code, their debuggers of choice, their development tools, etc. We now partner with STMicroelectronics® and support their brand-new microcontroller, the STM32U585, with Microvisor. Anyone curious for more is invited to have a look at this explainer video and sign up for our pilot program

What is your company looking for from the CW community? What engagement opportunities can it offer?

Twilio is a developer friendly organisation built by developers for developers. We would like to collaborate and partner with the organisations that are building innovative solutions needing resilient robust global coverage. Our Super SIM connectivity solution enables a single sim to access and ever increasing list of Tier 1 networks globally on a single SIM card at local rates on a consumption basis. Twilio has a strong startup and partnerships programme to support startup founders and builders as well as partnering with specialists in the field who can add value to our community of builders and customers. 

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