Privacy is an enduring issue for many, and not least when it comes to communications technologies. But Finnish startup Zyptonite thinks it may have the answer.
The year-old company has launched the first public beta of its real-time communications app, also called Zyptonite, which it believes will challenge industry giants such as Skype and FaceTime with increased privacy and better reliability.
"Our peer-to-peer architecture makes it different from most messenger apps," Zyptonite co-founder and CEO Antti Uusiheimala explains.
Interestingly, while Zyptonite is marketing peer to peer, or P2P, as a key differentiator in its service, it wouldn't have been so unique in the past. Most notably, Skype was built on a P2P backbone, but changed its network design after the company was acquired by Microsoft in 2011.
Furthermore, Google has just revealed that it is using P2P connections for its Hangouts service wherever possible, to improve audio and video quality.
Nevertheless, peer to peer remains an important differentiator for a messenger app like Zyptonite, which otherwise looks similar to its rivals, offering free chats, conferencing, and video calls.
Instead of transmitting data through servers, as most similar services do, Zyptonite creates a P2P network between its users and transfers data direct from one device to another.
Because the service bypasses servers, there is nowhere for data to be collected or stored. The startup believes this approach will appeal particularly to individuals and businesses concerned with data leaks or prying eyes.
"The main benefit of P2P is that it's truly between two parties and enables more private discussions," Uusiheimala argues. "There's no third place where the data could be vulnerable for data breaches. We're not building a better lock to the barn, but removing the barn completely."
Zyptonite has also discarded the commonly-used TCP transmission protocol and adopted the faster but less error-proof UDP protocol, often used in gaming and live streams. It took that decision because TCP's communication with the receiving end can cause delays to data-package delivery. By contrast UPD offers low latency but risks dropping some packets along the way.
"By eliminating the server, we can use the whole UDP transmission protocol and we don't need the handshakes required by TCP," Uusiheimala says.
"This makes data transfer and the real-time image and sound more reliable, especially for low- and variable-bandwidth mobile networks, because the connection doesn't require any minimum data rate."
Zyptonite argues that UDP, which Google has also adopted as part of its new QUIC protocol, makes it possible to keep devices connected even at 0kbps. Naturally, the users won't be able to communicate without data, but a call is not dropped completely and resumes automatically as the data speeds return.
Keeping with the ideals of privacy and transparency, Zyptonite's technology is largely built on the open WebRTC project. WebRTC allows real-time communications, or RTC, capabilities in browsers and mobile apps.
Uusiheimala admits there are certain benefits to running a service through servers as opposed to peer to peer, but believes monetisation is the primary reason P2P hasn't been adopted more widely.
In particular, a server-based approach enables traditional business models, such as per-minute tariffs or collecting user data to be sold for targeted advertising.
As a result, Zyptonite's has had to develop its own plans for making money from its service. For example, the company is planning premium features targeted mainly at business users. But for now Zyptonite operates as a free public beta with a client, browser, and Android app -- and plans for an iOS version in the pipeline.
"I don't know if the world is going to P2P, but communication is," Uusiheimala says. "We represent the future in this."