Twilio rolls out mobile communications platform and add-on marketplace

Twilio, one of the better poster children for modular application development, ups the mobile ante; partners with T-Mobile to offer Twilio Programmable Wireless

Twilio rolls out mobile communications platform and add-on marketplace
Credit: TechStage

I've known Jeff Lawson, the founder and CEO of communications provider Twilio, for a number of years. I first sat down and chatted with Lawson (see video below) five years ago. At that time, our conversation was about how Lawson believed the new style of enterprise was enabling its people to do more, faster.

At that stage, Lawson was a couple of years into his Twilio journey, and the company was a much smaller organization. Today, Twilio has over 500 employees, with headquarters in San Francisco and other offices in Bogotá, Colombia; Dublin, Ireland; Hong Kong; London; Mountain View, California; Munich; New York City; Singapore; and Tallinn, Estonia.

Twilio's raison d'etre is to enable developers, and by extension organizations, to build applications with communication services (phone, SMS, chat, etc.) integrated into them. The magic of Twilio, however, is that rather than having to build out the communications infrastructure to do this, developers simply leverage Twilio's own services and connect via API to the Twilio platform. It's a perfect example of abstracting non-core operations to third parties, and it's a theme we see more and more of.

Building cellular connectivity into apps

We're likely to see even more of that going forward, since Twilio today announced a partnership with T-Mobile to enable even more communications services on its platform. The new solution, named Twilio Programmable Wireless, allows developers to include cellular connectivity into their applications.

Traditionally, building solutions with cellular connectivity has been largely out of reach for developers. In the case of IoT, one of the more obvious use cases for cellular communications within applications, builders have had no choice but to resort to Wi-Fi or other short-range connectivity, which inhibits adoption due to added configuration needs and lack of ubiquitous coverage.

From an enterprise IT perspective, the loss of control IT departments face when mobile phones and tablets are outside sanctioned phone systems has constricted innovation. With programmable cellular capabilities, developers and enterprises can now create their own customized carrier solution.

Twilio Programmable Wireless offers:

  • API-driven Cellular Connectivity: The new "Devices" API enables developers to provision Twilio SIM cards directly from their applications. Software can now remotely control SIM activation, data usage and bandwidth limits. The commands API provides machine-to-machine connectivity even in areas without data coverage or to preserve battery power. The same API provides granular usage data.
  • Full Communications Stack: In addition to data, Twilio SIM Cards will fully support Twilio Programmable Voice and Programmable SMS, giving developers access to the power of the Twilio cloud for both machine and human communications.
  • Self-service: With usage-based billing, transparent pricing and API-driven procurement of SIM cards, Twilio Programmable Wireless greatly simplifies the deployment and management of connectivity.

The interesting thing in all of this, beyond the obvious utility of the service, is that Twilio is partnering with T-Mobile to deliver the solution. This is a great example of a legacy vendor realizing that it is facing significant risks and taking a high-risk path to ameliorating that risk. T-Mobile delivers a strong endorsement of this view:

“We’re bringing our wildly successful Un-carrier strategy to developers,” said Mike Sievert, T-Mobile Chief Operating Officer. “While the old-guard carriers stifle innovation and try to lock up all the value for themselves, T-Mobile has a different philosophy; we openly partner with world-class companies, like Twilio, to empower entrepreneurs and ignite wireless innovation. By partnering with Twilio to deliver these capabilities to Twilio’s vast developer network, we support developers in building the cellular-connected solutions of tomorrow.”

Twilio add-ons

Alongside the cellular offering, Twilio is also launching an add-on program that will see pre-integrated partner technologies available directly from Twilio via its API. The add-ons, which will be available as a one-click option from the Twilio Marketplace, provide builders with many new capabilities to enhance their Twilio applications, such as sentiment analysis of text messages, speech-to-text transcription for phone calls, and insight into user demographic data based on phone number.

Developers can also publish and sell add-ons to Twilio’s community of over 1 million registered developer accounts.

Twilio add-ons make it possible for developers to access a variety of partner technologies using the Twilio API that they already use. They can access partner APIs with the same authentication process, API framework and billing relationship they use with Twilio. The add-ons are available for Programmable SMS, Programmable Voice and Twilio Lookup and can be instantly installed from the Twilio console.

Interestingly Twilio is partnering with IBM and delivering some of its Watson services via the marketplace. Other partners include NextCaller, WhitePages Pro, Mobile Commons and Payfone.


What's not to like? Creating a vibrant ecosystem around Twilio's existing service and delivering cellular connectivity as a core part of the platform have obvious value to developers. Twilio has long been the cheerleader for this approach toward application development, and these product releases show the company's momentum isn't slowing.

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