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10 min readPublished Jul 20, 2023

Sendbird alternatives: 5 competitors to consider in 2023

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Sendbird overview

Sendbird is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider that enables developers to build notifications, chat, video calling, and video live streaming into their apps. Using the Sendbird API, SDKs, and UI kits, developers can create sophisticated support, marketing, and transactional live chat experiences without needing to create the underlying functionality from scratch.

If you’re considering using Sendbird to add chat functionality to your application, you should make sure that you know:

  • What Sendbird does well.

  • Sendbird’s limitations.

  • The most compelling Sendbird alternatives.

But first, let’s look in some detail at what Sendbird is. As a chat PaaS, Sendbird focuses on giving you the backend functionality to power chat in different forms. Sendbird’s main products are:

  • Notifications for transactional and marketing messages.

  • In-app chat.

  • In-app voice and video calling.

  • Live video streaming.

  • Support desk.

In addition to chat SDKs for some languages and frameworks, Sendbird provides UI kits that help you to embed their functionality into mobile and web applications.

Sendbird’s advantages

Sendbird can be a good choice if you want to focus specifically on chat and video calling. 

  • Use case specific APIs: Sendbird bundles up all of the technologies required to deliver chat, video, and notifications, including moderation, reactions, mentions, typing indicators, user presence, and read receipts. It also further packages them to provide tailored chat and messaging for support scenarios.

  • Scalable infrastructure: Sendbird’s marketing claims that it can scale to more than a million active users per client application and that they deliver billions of messages each month.

  • Compliance: The platform complies with industry and regulatory standards including SOC 2, ISO 27001, HIPAA/HITECH, and GDPR.

Sendbird disadvantages

If you’re considering Sendbird then you should always be aware of its limitations, such as:

  • Limited to certain use cases: Using Sendbird, you can build only the functionality that they have anticipated. That’s not a problem if you want to build in-app chat or in-app video calling but you can’t use Sendbird to build the realtime collaboration features that you find in apps like Figma or Miro.”

  • Must choose one data center: It’s harder to reach a global audience using Sendbird as they require that you choose one data center in which to locate your chat service. That’s bad for performance. Low latency, reliability, and availability will be tougher to deliver, especially as users get further away from that one data center.

  • Limited developer experience: Sendbird offers SDKs for some languages but there are some surprising omissions. For example, Sendbird Chat does not have SDKs for some of the most popular languages, including Java, Python, PHP, Go, and Ruby.

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5 alternatives to Sendbird

Sendbird is just one of many solutions that you could choose, each bringing its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at five of the best chat API and messaging solutions, which make great alternatives to Sendbird:

  1. Firebase

  2. Stream

  3. Socket.IO

  4. Twilio Conversations

  5. Ably

Unlike Sendbird, Firebase is a backend-as-a-service (BaaS). That means it aims to replace the web server, data store, and back-end code that otherwise you’d need to build and administer yourself.

Although Firebase doesn’t directly mirror Sendbird’s chat offering, you can build something similar using several different Firebase components. In particular, Firebase Authentication to authenticate users, Firebase Realtime Database/Cloud Firestore to handle data storage and sync, then Firebase Cloud Messaging for native OS notifications. But how well does Firebase stack up as a Sendbird alternative?

Firebase advantages

  • Fast app set-up: Firebase offers so much functionality – hosting, provisioning, DevOps management, data storage, synchronization – that it can cut how long it takes to spin up those first iterations of your app’s chat functionality.

  • Good developer experience: Firebase is known for the quality of technical documentation, as well as its SDKs for mobile platforms and popular web languages such as Java, Python, and Go. There’s also a large, global developer community who share advice, sample code, and other ways to help you become productive.

  • Free to get started: Most aspects of Firebase let you build a proof of concept or even a small production app without having to hand over any money.

Firebase disadvantages

  • It’s harder to scale Firebase: One key limitation of Firebase is its Realtime Database. It can handle only 200,000 concurrent connections and, perhaps more limiting, only 1,000 writes per second. If your app needs to scale beyond those limits, then you lose much of the convenience that Firebase promised because you will have to shard your data across multiple instances. Sharding adds significant complexity to your app frontend. One alternative that Firebase offers is Cloud Firestore. That will handle up to around one million concurrent connections but you’ll need to develop your own presence functionality manually, which again negates the benefits of using a backend-as-a-service.

  • Every event requires a database write: Firebase is all about the database. Anything that happens between the client and the backend must first become a database write. That way, even throwaway events become a burden on Firebase’s already limited capacity to handle concurrent connections and will increase your storage bill. Imagine having to write to the database every time your chat app needs to display a typing indicator.

  • Firebase is expensive: Firebase gets you going quickly but you pay for that in higher usage fees. But it’s not just that Firebase has high prices. It’s also hard to spot when costs are running out of control. There are many stories of Firebase users receiving high bills as things got out of control. Take a look at How not to get a $30k bill from Firebase and We burnt $72K testing Firebase + Cloud Run and almost went bankrupt.

Learn more about the challenges of working with Firebase.

Like Sendbird, Stream is a PaaS that focuses on chat and, more recently, activity feeds. Using Stream’s SDKs and APIs, you can build chat functionality and activity feeds directly into your web and mobile applications. Stream is also planning to introduce video calling functionality, with a beta in operation at the time of writing.

Stream advantages

  • Use case specific APIs: Getstream’s APIs give you endpoints for chat-specific functionality, such as the building blocks to create in-app chat.

  • Strong uptime: For enterprise customers on Stream’s most expensive plans, there is a 99.999% uptime SLA. Customers on lower packages must make do with lower guarantees.

  • Managed infrastructure: Stream takes care of running your chat functionality’s backend, from a network of global data centers.

Stream disadvantages

  • Limited flexibility: Stream offers you only the chat and activity feeds functionality planned by their Product and Engineering teams. If you need to do something different, you’ll need to use a different solution.

  • Data held by Stream: All of the data you send to users through Stream is also stored by Stream. That could complicate compliance and other regulatory concerns.

  • Focused on chat and activity feeds: Like Sendbird, Stream can help you only with certain use cases. If you need to build something else, such as data broadcast or multiplayer collaboration, you’ll need to find a different vendor and technology.

Socket.IO is an open source library that was one of the first to make it relatively easy for developers to bring low latency, two way communication to their web applications. Built on top of the WebSocket protocol, Socket.IO also provides automatic reconnects and graceful fallback to long polling when WebSocket is unsuitable.

Socket.IO advantages

  • Build what you need: As a realtime connection library, Socket.IO gives you the flexibility to build any realtime functionality.

  • Simple reconnects: The library augments WebSocket by detecting disconnections and automatically reconnecting.

  • Efficient: Socket.IO can divide a single connection into multiple namespaces, meaning that adding more chat rooms or private chats doesn’t have to result in more network overhead.

Socket.IO disadvantages

  • Does not guarantee exactly-once delivery: Receiving the same message more than once is, at best, annoying. Socket.IO’s architecture means that it can provide at-most-once and at-least-once guarantees. To achieve exactly-once, you need to develop manual message tracking and acknowledgements, which could require persisting each message to a separate database.

  • Limited chat functionality: Socket.IO is a low-level solution, meaning that you’ll need to implement common chat features (such as read receipts, typing indicators, and reactions) from scratch. It also doesn’t allow you to generate and renew auth tokens, or end-to-end encrypt chats without third-party tools.

  • Not multi-region: Socket.IO can’t work out of the box across multiple data centers, which increases your app’s exposure to infrastructure issues. It also reduces your app’s performance for users who are further away from that one data center.

Learn about the challenges of using Socket.IO at scale.

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4. Twilio Conversations

Twilio is best known as a communications provider as a service (CPaaS), providing APIs for SMS and phone call functionality. However, their Twilio Conversations product allows you to create one-to-one chats and multi-person chat rooms.

Twilio Conversations advantages

  • Omnichannel: Twilio Conversations provides a single API that works across multiple channels, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SMS, and in-app chat.

  • Rich media support: Chat users can send images, videos, and other files using services built on the API.

  • Compliance: Twilio Conversations meets security standards such as ISO 27001, HIPAA, GDPR, and SOC 2.

Twilio Conversations disadvantages

  • Limited features: Twilio Conversations is best suited to support and customer service scenarios. As such, you can’t create a public group chat service and it doesn’t support expected chat features such as mentions and reactions.

  • Single data center: Chat performance could be compromised because Twilio Conversations does not have a global, edge architecture. That means that performance and reliability reduce as distance increases from the data center. It also introduces a single point of failure, with no back-up should a failure occur.

  • Little flexibility: If all you need to build is a simple customer service chat product then Twilio Conversations could be suitable. However, if you need other realtime functionality or to build a chat solution that doesn’t match Twilio’s offering, then you’ll need to look elsewhere, along with the additional costs involved.

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5. Ably, the most reliable alternative to Sendbird

Ably is a realtime experience infrastructure provider. Our APIs and SDKs help you power realtime functionality for use cases like live chat, multiplayer collaboration, and data broadcast, without having to worry about managing and scaling messy realtime infrastructure.

Ably key features and capabilities

With a globally distributed, multi-region network, we offer unrivaled performance, data integrity, reliability, and scaling guarantees:

  • <65 ms median latency.

  • Guaranteed message ordering and exactly-once delivery, even when network conditions are unreliable.

  • Global edge network providing unparalleled redundancy at regional and global levels, with a 99.999% uptime SLA.

  • Enormous scalability, meaning you can send billions of messages to millions of channels and chat users.

Our developer experience is focused on bringing your product to market quickly. In particular, we’ve focused on helping you to integrate Ably with your existing tooling, systems, and preferred languages. As such, we have SDKs for languages and frameworks as diverse as PHP, Flutter, Clojure, tvOS, and NodeJS. We also offer integrations with cloud platforms, data streaming tools, and provisioning tools to make Ably a core part of your infrastructure. Built with real world use cases in mind, Ably offers flexible building blocks tailored to building rich chat experiences, including:

  • Online/offline status

  • Last seen indicators

  • Edit/delete messages

  • Threads

  • Emoji reactions

  • Typing indicators

  • Read receipts

  • Chat admin privileges

  • User avatar

  • Push notifications

See how Ably compares to Sendbird.

We have client SDKs for every major programming language and development platform, and we offer a wide variety of integrations, so you can easily connect Ably to your preferred tech stack. 

Build chat experiences you can trust to deliver at scale

Sign up for a free Ably account, and check out our chat apps reference guide to try Ably for chat today.

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