Meet Huddle01, the startup building a free, Web3-powered alternative to Zoom

Built by Ayush Ranjan and Susmit Lavania, Huddle01 is a P2P (peer-to-peer) video calling and communications platform that does not rely on centralised servers. This allows it to achieve low latency and high performance.
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Centralised, video conferencing platform Zoom has become infamous for its alleged privacy and security breaches, as well as ‘zoom-bombings’—a practice where hackers and pranksters crash into virtual meetings and post abusive messages.

Ayush Ranjan and Susmit Lavania found it ironic that blockchain and Web3 entrepreneurs and communities still used Zoom for meetings. Despite being proponents for decentralisation, Web3 communities were still meeting on a centralised virtual platform.

This inspired the duo (who hail from LNM Institute of Information Technology) to build a Web3-native real-time communication platform, which would be a decentralised, transparent, and secure alternative to Zoom.

As a result, video conferencing platform Huddle01 was formed.

“Instead of the traditional client-server architecture used by video conferencing platforms, Susmit and I decided to leverage blockchain technology to build Huddle as a P2P (peer-to-peer) communications platform that did not rely on centralised servers. Data moves directly between users through their browsers,” says Ayush Ranjan in a conversation with The Decrypting Story.

Huddle is free to use, does not require any registration, and does not track user data. It also provides Web3-rich features such as token-gating, NFTs as profile pictures, decentralised storage for meeting recordings (on IPFS and Filecoin), decentralised live streaming (on Livepeer), and more.

So far, the project claims to have hosted over 10,000 meetings for over 4,000 users. It has also raised a seed round of $2 million in 2021 from Protocol Labs and Web3 angel investors such as Sandeep Nailwal, Preethi Kasireddy, and more.

Huddle’s edge

Huddle’s mission is to enable seamless video calling while securing users’ online presence, protecting their digital identities, and allowing them to express themselves freely, the startup claims.

In fact, its decentralised network of users (known as nodes) allows it to achieve low latency and high speeds, even rivalling that of the more established, centralised video calling platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc.

“If you’re using Zoom in India, your audio-video data may be routed through North America, and these packets of data have to travel long distances due to Zoom’s client-server architecture. Huddle relies on a P2P or node-to-node structure where nodes that are much closer to a specific user are leveraged to host a meeting,” explains Susmit.

“Huddle coordinates computation and bandwidth resources around the edges to transfer audio-video packets through nodes that are significantly closer to the user. As such, the distance data has to travel is cut by thousands of kilometres. This brings lower latency and higher performance,” he adds.

Further, as Huddle is powered by blockchain, data and information on the platform is transparent and visible to nodes. It is not a “black box” like Zoom’s data system, the co-founders say.

However, centralised communication platforms are optimised for scale, and can handle hundreds (in some cases, up to a thousand) concurrent users in a meeting room. 

As an early-stage venture, Huddle is still building its scalability, even as it looks to add more supply and demand in terms of user nodes. 

“At the moment, we can handle 50 people in a meeting room, but we aim to host 100 users at once. Later this year, we are enabling a webinar feature where over a thousand people can join a virtual room,” says Ayush.

In Web3, scalability and supply-demand are often closely interlinked, as onboarding more nodes in its network allow Huddle to scale its video calling capabilities. 

With its upcoming token, nodes that are part of the startup’s network are also incentivised to earn.

Revenue model and future plans

Huddle’s revenue model is twofold. It provides customised, token-gated video calling experiences and meeting rooms to communities and firms, and charges subscription fees for this. 

It also rents out its infrastructure to people wanting to build or integrate their own audio-video platforms, and charges per user per minute.

Going forward, Huddle is looking to release its whitepaper, introduce grant programmes, launch a testnet, and more. 

The co-founders remain bullish about their ambitious goal to build the Web3 alternative for Zoom, especially when there seem to be no other players taking on the same problem statement for encrypted video calling.

Only some privacy browsers, like the blockchain browser Brave, have enabled video calling features.

“We are among the first builders to attempt to build a real-time, decentralised communication infrastructure,” says Ayush.

(This story was updated to change the headline and to add an input from the company.)

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta