What I Learned Researching Chat Provider Pricing

My comparison of the top live chat services and their pricing structures - Pubnub vs Sendbird vs Stream

Full disclosure: I’m the head of sales at Stream, and we launched our chat API in the fall of 2019. After 5 years of providing highly stable, fast and scalable activity and notification feeds, we’re excited to have entered this space. Unlike feeds, chat/messaging has a large number of competitors. In order to not only be competitive in the space but to also offer our customers a fresh take on an already booming market, I began a quest to research the stronger companies and understand as much as possible how they price and at what levels.

UPDATED: September, 2020

This post covers what I’ve gleaned so far and how Stream’s offering compares. I’ve sorted this list of chat providers based on how much work is required to build a complete chat solution from hardest to easiest.

It’s also worth noting that in the last 12 months two of our competitors left the market: Layer and Pusher. I’ve removed them from this updated post.

PubNub Pricing

Product Overview

PubNub offers you a lower level building block for creating real-time apps. They recently launched Pubnub Chat. They don’t provide reusable visual components for the frontend. They appear to support low level SDKs in JS, Swift, Java and Unity, leaving you to spend a considerable amount of time building out your chat experience. They also have a limited feature set compared to Stream and Sendbird.

Pubnub created sample apps in React, React Native, Unity, Swift and Java (Android) which helps, but is far from the reusable chat SDK components that Stream provides in React, React Native, Flutter, iOS (Swift) and Android (Kotlin and Java).

PubNub has an excellent track record in terms of performance, scalability, and reliability. Customers such as HubSpot, Yelp, and eBay rely on their real-time API. Their chat API is currently not as popular as the real time offering.

Pricing Overview

PubNub’s pricing was updated to look more like a normal chat type experience as opposed to the edge type transactional pricing they had previously. Per their pricing page, you can sign up for a $49/mo plan. In that you get 1,500 MAU, 3,000 transactions times the number of MAU you have in that month, and $8 per GB of storage (it doesn’t look like you get any storage included initially). Here’s how their overage works:

MAU are $0.033 / user.
Transactions are $0.00003 per transaction.
Function executions are $0.000025 per - though their page says you can’t use functions on this $49 plan.

Here’s where it gets complicated again. Transactions are broken into types: replicated, edge, message-actions, signals. This makes it difficult to predict your actual usage. I didn’t see anything on their pricing page to help you determine how many transactions you’ll have.

It’s hard to compare this pricing to Stream’s, but if I ignore the complicated pieces and just look at MAU, this plan charges $0.033 per MAU + a hard to predict amount based on transactions and function executions. Doing the same calculation, Stream’s Standard plan comes out to $0.02 per MAU. The biggest difference is the starting point, as they have this $49 plan and Stream’s Chat Standard is $499. For a small app (that expects to stay small) PubNub can be cost effective due to the low starting price point. On the flip side they do take more time to integrate than Sendbird or Stream, so it also depends on how much you value your developer’s time. For apps that are larger or expect to grow PubNub will be a less cost effective option. They do have a solid track record in terms of stability.

The last thing I notice are the red X’s for this plan for GDPR and HIPAA. Be sure to note that if you require either of those you need a custom plan from them.

SendBird Pricing

Product Overview

Both SendBird and Stream offer a very comprehensive chat API. In fact, we typically recommend Sendbird as an alternative to Stream.

What is SendBird? In polling customers of SendBird, they’ve generally had good things to say about the product. You can also do your own Sendbird review and see what you think.

Pricing Overview

On the SendBird website, their pricing page was updated earlier this year showing 3 plans: Starter, Pro and Enterprise. The page has some slick sliders to let you see what the different pricing options are. When you get to the upgrade page you have 10 self serve options and one option to talk to sales about Enterprise.

When customers are researching chat providers they very quickly realize the 2 most fully featured products are Stream and Sendbird. In fact you can look at Product Hunt's Sendbird reviews/alternatives list, and see how well we stack up against some of Sendbird's other competitors

So how does Sendbird’s pricing work? It’s primarily driven by MAU and peak concurrent connections. One big difference is in the ratio of MAU to concurrent. Sendbird’s pricing page clearly states that the allowed peak concurrent is 2% of the number of MAU (MAU 10k / peak concurrent 200) in the plan you choose. Stream allows 5% in our standard offering, and we have an enterprise livestream plan that is even more generous (since for livestream all your users come on at the same time). If peak concurrent is going to be what drives your usage, Stream is immediately allowing 2.5 times as many concurrent for the same number of MAU. I haven’t been able to find what the overage fees are if you exceed the MAU or concurrent in your plan. The pricing page just has an asterix and says overage costs may apply. The closest apples to apples comparison would be Stream Standard Chat and Sendbird Pro at 25k MAU. Sendbird Pro gives you announcements, which Stream Chat doesn’t provide (yet, it’s in the Q4 roadmap), but the translation and moderation abilities match up at Pro and aren’t in Sendbird's Starter. Stream Standard Chat costs $499/mo for 25k MAU and 1,250 Peak concurrent. Sendbird Pro at 25k MAU costs $3,499 and gives you 500 peak concurrent.

Here are some direct comparisons to their listed standard prices.

StreamSendbird StarterSendbird ProSendbird Enterprise
5k MAU$499*$399$799??
10k MAU$499*$599$999??
25k MAU$499*$3,499$5,799??
50k MAU$1,699**$4,199$6,699??
100k MAU$2,000***$4,999$7,599??

*Stream Chat Standard gives you up to 25k MAU
** Includes overage on our standard plan up to 50k MAU
*** Stream Enterprise plans start at 100k MAU

Clearly Sendbird's list prices are higher but let’s look at what other limitations they impose.

Delivery receipts - Not provided on Starter plans.

Announcement - Not provided on Starter plans.

Message Translation - Not provided on Starter plans. Stream has it for all levels (additional fees).

Moderation - Other than very simple things, only on Pro and Enterprise. Stream provides all these capabilities in Standard and Enterprise (AI moderation has additional fees).

Data Export - Only on Enterprise plans.

Channel member limits - Sendbird charges additional fees if you have more than 100 members in a channel. Stream scales to high levels of members and concurrent users at no additional costs.

HIPAA - Only on Enterprise. Stream will sign a BAA for our Standard plan.

For support options they have Base, L1, L2 and L3. Base is similar to Stream’s basic support, except that we don’t restrict contact hours to just US business hours (I assume that’s what 8x5 means for them). Stream has support personnel in Boulder, Amsterdam and Sydney, giving us 24/7 coverage. L1 is 4% of monthly cost or min $1k (you’d have to spend $25k a month to hit $1k at 4%), L2 is 6% of monthly cost or min $2k, and L3 is 8% of monthly cost or min $5k. The L3 is the first 24/7 option. They say you can have slack support for “extra payment”. Streams Premium ($1k/mo) comes with Slack. Stream’s Enterprise ($2k/mo) adds 24/7 emergency phone and guaranteed uptime SLAs. Stream’s Extended Enterprise ($4k/mo) increases the uptime SLA to 99.999% guaranteed.

Ready for a SendBird migration? Luckily we make it really easy for you.

Stream Pricing

Product Overview

Stream powers activity feeds and chat for a billion end users. Notable customers include Powerschool, Stocktwits, Freeletics, Match, TaskRabbit, Imgur and Dubsmash.

Stream provides both a scalable chat API as well as Chat UI libraries for React, React Native, iOS, Android and Flutter. The focus is on providing a better time to market than competing chat solutions. It typically takes our customers days/weeks to integrate with Stream while other chat APIs can take months. We of course also have backend SDKs for all commonly used languages. Stream also provides a beautiful UI kit.

Other notable features include Advanced AI based moderation, reactions, detailed permission levels, url previews and threads. Compared to the other chat providers we believe we offer a complete solution and give you a substantial advantage in terms of time to market.

The tech stack of Go, RocksDB, and Raft enables Stream to offer a level of performance and reliability that’s suitable for enterprise clients. Average API performance is 10ms and we offer a 99.999% uptime SLA.

Chat Provider Pricing Example

Let’s review two examples to see how pricing compares between Stream and Sendbird (leaving our Pubnub because it’s not straightforward enough for me to have confidence in the numbers).

LiveStream use case (high concurrency drives pricing)

If you have 1000 concurrent, you’re covered with Stream under the standard plan (1250 allowed). Your cost will be $499.

With Sendbird with 1000 concurrent you need a plan that allows 50,000 MAU (2% concurrent to MAU). 50k Starter is $4,199 and 50k Pro is $6,699.

For this simple case, Stream is over 8x less or over 13x less in cost depending on the Sendbird plan chosen.

Social use case (MAU drives pricing)

Let’s say your app needs 25,000 MAU. You are again fitting into Stream’s Standard plan at $499.

With Sendbird the 25k Starter plan is $3,499 and the 25k Pro plan is $5,799.

For this case, Stream is over 7x less or over 11x less in cost depending on the Sendbird plan chosen.

Chat Pricing Overview

As you’ve seen in the above comparisons, Stream is substantially more cost effective than the other chat providers such as SendBird and PubNub. PubNub’s pricing mainly makes sense for smaller apps that don’t expect too much growth. All 3 of these solutions are typically more cost effective than building in-house.

Stream is typically more cost effective than Sendbird. The difference grows if you have a high number of concurrent users, or need features that are part of their Pro or Enterprise offering.

Don’t take my word for it though; get in touch. Our pricing is standard and doesn’t change from customer to customer, so you can make your own comparisons. You can also check out our 5/5 star rating on Product Hunt here.

Alternatively try our tutorials for React, React Native, iOS, Android and Flutter.