Twilio: programmable telephony, SMS comes to the UK, Europe

Web telephony provider twilio, which is based in San Francisco, has today announced its first international office, in London. You can now purchase UK telephone numbers at a cost of $1.00 per month, or Freephone numbers for $2.00 per month.

Twilio is not in competition with Skype or Google Voice; rather it offers an API so that you can incorporate voice calls and SMS messaging into web or mobile applications. The REST API lets you provision numbers with various options for what happens to incoming calls (conferencing, forwarding to another number or voice over IP, recording, transcriptions), as well as notifications so that you can get email or SMS alerts.

CEO and co-founder Jeff Lawson came from Amazon Web Services (AWS), and has a similar business model in that twilio targets developers and offers infrastructure as a service, rather than selling complete applications to its customers. Twilio does not own any datacenters, but uses mainly AWS and some RackSpace virtual servers to provide a resilient and scalable service.

The launch partner for the UK is Zendesk, a cloud-based helpdesk provider, which is using twilio to add voice to what was previously an email-based product. Zendesk forms an excellent case study. Using the service, you can provision a support number and have calls redirected to agents, or have a voicemail recorded, using a simple setup procedure. Calls can be recorded and you can have alerts sent when they are received.

What this means is that even the smallest businesses can offer helpdesk support using a pay-as-you-go model.

Lawson observes that twilio is the 6th and 13th most popular API on ProgrammableWeb (he says it is 5th if you combine voice and SMS) and claims very rapid growth in traffic using the API, though he will not talk about revenue. The company has around 60 employees in San Francisco and just one in the UK initially.

The service is also launching in beta for 5 other European countries: Poland, France, Portugal, Austria and Denmark. 11 other countries will be added by the end of 2011, though there are prominent omissions – no Germany or Spain, for example.

I was impressed by the demo and presentation at the press launch. Lawson provisioned a conferencing number and had us dial in during the briefing. He says twilio is engaged in disrupting on-premise telephony applications with a cloud service, in the same way has done for CRM (Customer Relationship Management). The service is inexpensive to set up; Lawson said that this commodity pay-as-you-go pricing is essential for disruptive technology to succeed, another strategy borrowed from AWS.

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