Communications APIs: What Are They and Which One Could Work for You


But building such a feature from scratch is a resource-intensive task. By using communications APIs, you gain access to pre-built and customizable features instantly. There are many communications APIs out there --- learning about their features, pricing, and user reviews will help you choose the right one for your product.

What Are Communications APIs?

An API (application programming interface) is a set of protocols that enables the transfer of data between two or more software systems. It allows applications to talk to each other, send and receive data, and access each other's functionality. A communications API gives software applications access to pre-built communication functions, such as text, voice-based and video-based chat, email, and SMS. For example, you can introduce an in-app chat feature in your mobile app by using a chat API.

How Do Communications APIs Work?

Communications APIs give you access to pre-built communications features that you can access, customize as per your requirements, and introduce to your own products. Think of Google Maps. You see it used across web and mobile apps, but no one builds it from scratch. Instead, product managers and developers across the world use APIs from the Google Maps platform to add Google's map-related features to their own apps. Communications APIs work similarly.

  1. You choose a communications API provider based on the type of API, pricing, data volume, compliance, and many other variables.
  2. You obtain an API key and documentation from the API provider.
  3. Your developer uses the key and instructions in the documentation to integrate your application with the API.
  4. The developer also defines how the data will be parsed in the app and presented to the user based on your instructions.
  5. You test different types of API requests based on the functionalities offered by the API provider and go live.

After the feature goes live, it is available to all users. For the users, a feature powered by a third-party API works as any other feature. They initiate a request, and the API carries the request to a server and brings back the response. In the case of a communications API, the request would be the video, audio, or text messages between users, with the API relaying the messages back and forth between the two.

8 Communications APIs to Consider

The following are eight major third-party API providers in the communications space, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. 

1. Twilio

With Twilio's Video API, you can introduce a one-on-one or group video chat feature to your product. This API can be used for apps dedicated to video conferencing and apps where video calling is an additional feature.

Twilio's Video API supports up to 50 participants at a time, but you can also build video rooms that can support up to 500 users. The API is HIPAA compliant, so it is suitable for healthcare apps where you collect, store, and handle sensitive patient data.

Twilio has 5 out of 5 stars on Capterra and 4.5 stars (out of 5) on G2. More than 70% of the 405 reviews on G2 gave it 5 out of 5 stars.

There's a pay-as-you-go model for video groups, starting at $0.004 per user per minute. However, there's a free version you can use to build a one-on-one video feature. You can also use the free version to get a video feature up and running quickly in a test environment, test the quality of the video, and compare it with other vendors.

2. Agora

Agora offers a video chat API that matches Twilio in terms of performance. The API is HIPAA and GDPR compliant, so you don't have to worry about data compliance in the UK and EU regions.

With Agora, there's no cap on the number of participants on a video call. So if you manage a learning management system (LMS) and offer live classes through it, you can create multiple classrooms and add unlimited students to them. There's a pay-as-you-go model that varies based on the number of participants and video quality. You have to pay $3.99 per 1,000 minutes for standard video and $8.99 per 1,000 minutes for HD video. There's no free trial, but the first 10,000 minutes every month are free.

Agora does not have too many reviews out there right now. They have a 4 out of 5-star rating on G2 and only two reviews on Capterra. The low number of reviews should not deter you from trying out the product, as there are zero upfront costs, and your developers can easily set up the API in a test environment.

3. Dolby

With Dolby's Voice Call API, you can add a voice chat option to your product. When you sign up for the API, you gain access to a developer platform where you can manage your subscription, generate API keys, and gain access to guides, documentation, and analytics. The API also gives you access to customizable audio settings and voice processing.

The API is GDPR, HIPAA, and SOC 2 compliant. Being SOC 2 compliant means that third-party auditors found it to have the highest security standards. The API has 4.3 out of 5 stars on G2 and 4.1 on Capterra. Dolby is one of the most famous names in the audio industry, and their Voice Call API is as reliable as it gets. They also have a free trial that you can use to test the product. The free trial leads into a pay-as-you-go model with a price of $0.0014 per participant per minute.

4. Vonage

Vonage's Voice API has built-in advanced features such as support for AI, voice bots, and speech recognition. The features it offers, along with voice chat, make it suitable for web and mobile apps that want to use voice chat for automated customer support.

Some of the programmable features in Vonage, such as speech recognition, AI monitoring and support, and natural language understanding, cost $0.0174 per 15 seconds, $4,947 per month, and $0.0534 per minute, respectively. These prices are subject to change with time. So the costs can be on the higher side, but there's a free trial that you can use to experience the different features and decide if it's worth the investment.

As for compliance, Vonage has a compliance engine for their communications API, so they do not comply with any regulations from the get-go, but you can create your own data-handling rules to comply with any regulations that apply to you.

Vonage has a 4-star rating on G2 and 4.2 on Capterra.

5. Mailgun

Mailgun's Email API helps you build email features into your application. It is ideal for bulk emailing and is mostly used to build email features into CRMs and similar customer management and marketing tools.

With email, you have to be extra careful about regulations and security since the API will come in contact with your database and use it to send emails to your subscribers. Mailgun is GDPR, HIPAA, and ISO 27001 compliant, as well as SOC 1 and 2 certified, so you are covered for both data security and compliance.

Mailgun also gives you access to analytics data, such as the number of emails sent and delivered and their open and click-through rate, but you have to build your own dashboard and reports. The price is $35/month for 50,000 emails, but it's variable and scales with the number of emails you want to send every month.

The API has a 4.3-star rating on G2 and Capterra.

6. SendGrid

SendGrid's Email API can handle billions of emails per month. It is one of the biggest email APIs out there and is used by large organizations that have email subscribers in the millions. So if you want your email API to handle large volumes of data, SendGrid may be a good fit for you.

The API is SOC 2 Type 2 and GDPR compliant, but it is not HIPAA compliant, so it is not suitable for you if you have patient records in your database and want to send emails to those patients. Bear in mind that HIPAA is only applicable in the U.S., and different regulations may apply in other countries.

SendGrid has a 4.2-star rating on Capterra and a 4-star rating on G2. The pricing is scalable and starts with $19.95/month for 50,000 emails

7. Plivo

When you sign up for Plivo's SMS API, you gain access to a platform that allows you to set up two-factor authentication, alerts, notifications, autoresponders, and surveys from which you can run all your automated SMS campaigns.

The API is often used by global organizations as it covers 190 countries across the globe. If you want to cater to an international audience, Plivo may be a good fit for you. The pricing plans vary depending on the number of outbound and inbound SMSs, the location of the sender and receiver, and the type of source number (long code, short code, and toll-free). Roughly, it is $0.005 per SMS, but the costs will vary based on the variables mentioned.

Plivo has a 4.4-star rating on Capterra and 4.5 on G2.

8. Sinch

Unlike Plivo's simpler platform, Sinch's SMS API needs development work to configure your SMS campaigns. So you will need a developer's help to set up autoresponders, notifications, surveys, and similar campaigns after they install the API.

Sinch covers over 60 countries, which is smaller in comparison to Plivo, but if it covers the locations you cater to, it can be a more cost-effective alternative. They do not have standard pricing per SMS, so you have to get a quote after explaining your requirements. They do offer a free trial, so you can at least sign up and get a firsthand experience of how the API works before you commit to anything.

Sinch has a 4-star rating on G2 and no reviews on Capterra yet.

Getting Started with Communications APIs

The choice between video, audio, chat, email, or SMS is based on your industry and target audience. Live text-based chat is one option that applies to all sectors, from banking to healthcare. In 2021, customers from the technology sector spent roughly 19 minutes on live chat on average, and those in the media and entertainment sector spent roughly six minutes. All other sectors, such as real estate, manufacturing, education, ecommerce, and travel, fall between these two ranges. Users expect your app and your website to have a live chat feature, so they can quickly reach out to you and get answers in real time if needed.

Besides customer support, chat features can also be built into collaboration platforms and productivity tools so that people working on the same projects can connect with each other right through the platform. As compared to video, email, and audio chat — which each have their specific use cases — live chat has universal appeal. So if you are in doubt about the type of API you should use, choose chat.