Jami provides all its users with a universal video communication tool that is completely autonomous, free, secure, and requires no infrastructure other than your own device. In this interview, Jami’s VP Christophe Villemer explains the benefits of peer to peer connectivity for streaming video securely and invites WebsitePlanet readers to give Jami a try.
Please describe the company’s story: What is your mission? what sparked the idea, and how has it evolved so far?
Jami is a spinoff of Savoir-faire Linux, a Montreal-based open-source software service company that has been around for 20 years now. We offer open-source software development services, mainly related to embedded systems and industry 4.0. For a long time, we had R&D activities, which began with a SIP softphone about 10 years ago, called SFLphone for Linux.
In 2013, after the Snowden issue, there was some movement on the internet, mainly in the open-source world, asking for tools that will allow everybody to communicate over the internet with the assurance that nobody could eavesdrop and that their privacy is protected.
Since we are a major contributor to the open-source movement, we saw it as a good opportunity for us to leverage our expertise and launch a new project.
Creating a universal peer-to-peer communication platform that would work on any device, assuring the privacy of the users was a huge technical challenge. We worked a lot with a University here in Montreal to help us.
The project was first called Ring, but we had some IP issues because Ring was also the name of a startup related to a smart doorbell, bought by Amazon. As we didn’t want to compete against Amazon, we decided to rebrand the project and called it Jami, which is the Swahili word for community.
We launched Jami officially in January 2019 at the CES in Las Vegas. In the beginning, we got a lot of attention from hackers as well as many other people from different parts of the world who were interested in complete privacy.
We began to gather a global community that translated the software and gave us feedback.
When the pandemic struck, followed by new Zoombombing issues, we began to get huge interest and downloads all over the world.
Of course, we faced a lot of technical challenges, but it was very good for us because we received a lot of feedback about the stability of the connection and the user experience.
For the past six months, we’ve been working tirelessly to keep up with the rising demand. Thanks to some support from the Canadian Research National Institute of Innovation, we were also able to develop some special features within Jami that will help the commercialization.
In mid-October, we officially launched a new version called Together, which is a major step forward for us because it brings new features, as well as excellent audio and video quality.
How is Jami different from Zoom and other competitors?
First of all, Jami is a complete peer-to-peer application. That means there is no infrastructure and no servers for the communications to go through. When you use Zoom, your connection goes through their servers, where they keep some parts of the video. Even if they say that it’s partly or fully encrypted, the videos are stored somewhere on their servers and you never know what they would do with it.
Peer-to-peer connectivity is fully encrypted from end to end. It is based on torrent architecture, which means that only the device is connected, with no third-party intermediary that could interfere with the connection. That gives you better connectivity because you don’t have to go through a server outside of your country and experience server delays like you do on Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft, Skype, or even FaceTime.
As for privacy, we do not collect any user data whatsoever. When you create an account, we don’t even ask for your email or phone number. Instead, we create a unique username that is linked to a blockchain, ensuring that the user is unique. We use encrypted exchanges of private and public keys to validate the account.
Once the account is created, you can find other accounts in the network and connect with them. All of the data, including the chat, video, and file attachments, will remain only on your device and not anywhere else, giving you full control of your privacy.
One of Jami’s specialties is low latency and low bandwidth, but when you have normal connectivity, whether it’s 3G, 4G, or Wi-Fi, we offer a very good quality of video and sound with reduced latency. Video streaming is actually our core expertise, we’ve been doing that for our clients for many years. Now, we’ve put our know-how into Jami, and the main feedback we get is that it’s very easy to use and that the quality is outstanding.
What can you tell me about your new product for businesses, Together?
Even though we intend to keep Jami a free open-source software under GPL license, and with no ads, we wanted to add a business model that would offer organizations the capacity to use Jami internally.
We launched a beta version of Jams – Jami Account Management Servers – to allow the deployment of Jami inside organizations so that users can connect using their company ID instead of the public blockchain. Choosing this option would link the username to a private directory, like LDAP Active Directory or any directory database. The official release of JAMS should come before the end of the year.
That makes a great solution for big or small businesses like law firms, medical clinics, and any other business where customer privacy is prioritized. JAMS allows them to have a local database where they create new user accounts and send them to their customers as a simple URL.
As we are not at all Web-based, you need to download the client to your device, similar to what you do with Zoom or Teams. But then, instead of sending out a URL that lets people join the call, you’d pick a user from within the account directory.
We got some feedback from a couple of psychologists who use Jami for online consultation. Typically today, they would ask their patients to create an account on Jami, but now, with JAMS, you can create an account for them, and only then, they will be able to connect.
In this new version, we developed a feature that allows you to invite multiple people to the video conference. We do that very well for calls of up to 20 people, we have mosaic management for the screen and people can do that more easily than they could before.
As there is no server, you need to gather all the streams in the same place. That means that if you organize a video conference with 10 people from your laptop, that laptop would be the server hosting the conference, so you need to have sufficient compatible hardware. We worked a lot on optimizing the streams to make sure that calls run smoothly without any issues. We call that functionality Rendezvous, a special account that people can connect to for video conferences.
Which trends and technologies do you expect to see more of in the coming years?
We are at the beginning of the Jami adventure and we’re certainly hoping to become the trend. We are beginning to have some POCs in hospitals and a lot of interest from people all over the world who are looking for built-in video conferencing tools in their home environment. Right now they are only available on tablets, smartphones, and PCs, but there are no tools for TVs.
Now that everyone is far from their families, they need those tools to connect with one another, and for some people, especially elderly people, that can be quite a challenge, but having video conferencing built into the TV room will make it very easily accessible.
Currently, smart TVs don’t have built-in cameras, so it’s only at the beginning. There are also issues with sound and hardware that are not yet on the market or quite expensive. But what we see, especially with the rebranding of Google TV and Apple TV, is that the conditions keep improving for it to be made possible. Of course, there is also the question of cost, and we think that Jami could provide the core technology at a reasonable cost.
Google Meet’s quality isn’t as good as Zoom because it requires a lot of processing in the data centers and every communication has a cost. There’s nothing there for Google to monetize because it’s not part of their business model. They make it easy to use because that’s where the world is going these days, but it’s purely a cost for them. That being said, we think that distributed communication will be the future of communication.
Every business model that relies on video conferencing has to be scalable. If you are server-centric, your cost of infrastructure will evolve dramatically as soon as you have more users. But with peer to peer or distributed networks, you can grow your pack of users without any costs because you have no server to maintain. We see interest in Jami from some ISPs and telco operators all over the world to offer communication solutions for their users without relying on GAFAM’s solutions.
At the end of the day, we expect more and more people to focus on privacy-related tools. You can’t rely on networks you don’t trust with your national, personal, or business communications. We get a lot of interest from users in countries where privacy is an issue and trust in the Internet is low. I think this will become a greater concern, and more and more providers will need to ensure that their users’ privacy is respected.