Mantis: Next-generation Cloud Technology for WebRTC

OpenTok_allplatforms (1)Today we’re proud to announce our latest WebRTC innovation: Mantis, a cloud-scaling infrastructure for our OpenTok on WebRTC platform.

This is another big step forward for the TokBox team as we continue to pursue our goal of providing application developers with simple yet powerful APIs. APIs that not only leverage the latest standards to deliver the best possible experience, but that are backed by a scalable, smart cloud which supports interoperability across a variety of end-points.

It was just over six months ago that we launched the OpenTok on WebRTC platform. Since that time we’ve been hard at work, constantly pushing the boundaries of OpenTok on WebRTC’s functionality and performance. We launched the first iOS SDK for WebRTC, introduced cross-platform and device support, improved connectivity with cross-platform TURN support and more.

Mantis for OpenTok on WebRTC acts as a central switching station for all the WebRTC streams in the OpenTok cloud.  Mantis enables:

  • Reduced upload bandwidth consumption, with the ability to scale out a single WebRTC stream to many endpoints
  • High-quality multi-party video calls
  • Cross-browser compatibility for Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer (through a plugin)
  • Cross-device compatibility for iOS native apps and Chrome on Android

Why should you care about Mantis?

1) It’s scalable…

WebRTC inherently uses a peer-to-peer based communication model.

In reality, while this is useful, several real-world applications naturally lend themselves to a multi-party use-case:  online classrooms, collaboration tools, the list goes on. The only way to enable a group video call using off-the-shelf WebRTC would be to create a mesh of PeerConnections between all participants in a call.

This mechanism doesn’t scale the number of connections well (it scales quadratically with the number of participants), and it is bandwidth inefficient. Every publisher needs to pipe out one video stream per call participant, leading to a linear increase in the amount of upload bandwidth required.

Mantis is a cloud-based media routing server, which enables us to get around this mesh problem by providing a centralized relay authority.

Every browser/device end-point thinks it’s connecting to a peer, but instead connects to one of our Mantis servers. Mantis can mediate multiple connections and then route streams from each publisher to any relevant end-point subscribing to that stream. Now OpenTok on WebRTC can scale subscribers effectively without constraints on publisher upload bandwidth, all while still leveraging standards-compliant WebRTC implementations under the covers.

Mantis Diagram

2) It’s smart…

Scale is just one piece of the puzzle.

Mantis also provides a call-control/signaling mechanism that works in lockstep with media routing. This means OpenTok on WebRTC uses some pretty sophisticated algorithms to dynamically adapt to various network conditions that the client endpoints may experience.

Let’s say you were on your iPhone in a coffee shop with Wi-Fi, and then you step out into the street and switch to a much slower cellular connection. Mantis is aware of the change in network conditions and can adapt the bitrate of the encoded stream in order to adapt.

3) It interoperates…

Supporting different devices endpoints is one of the core tenets we strive towards at TokBox.  Mantis helps us work towards interoperability between WebRTC and other communications ecosystems.

We believe Mantis lays the foundation for not only a powerful routing technology, but also for other functionality that can be layered on top of it: stream mixing, recording of media, signaling/event-notification APIs, and more.

We’re excited to show off our initial implementation of Mantis at the The Next Web ’13 in Amsterdam.  If you are going to be around, swing by our demo booth to see bandwidth-efficient multi-party WebRTC video in action, as well as a demo of dialing in to a WebRTC video call from your everyday mobile phone.

Mantis is now in external beta.  If you are interested in taking it for a spin, please contact us.

[UPDATE] Good news!  As of 10/1/13 Mantis is available in production. That means you no longer have to email the TokBox team to request access. Mantis is subject to the new OpenTok platform pricing which you can review here. Free access to Mantis is available through our new 30-day free trial.