At the recently concluded ITEXPO show in Las Vegas, I moderated a panel discussion on whether traditional physical network providers, fixed-line and mobile, were going to be “dumb pipe” providers or had significant opportunities to be enablers and/or competitors of next generation Over-the-Top (OTT) services. While debate was spirited and varied, the consensus was that those with physical networks, the right tools, and focus and agility could be major fulcrums of emerging OTT-based ecosystems as well as strong competitors on their own right. The caveat was that the window of opportunity to compete successfully with OTTs is closing quickly and the incumbents need to move quickly to properly leverage their resources, customer intimacy and trust.
The challenge is not just for the service providers. It is also for those who supply them with the capabilities they need to compete or collaborate. It is on this front that the purchase by Frisco, Texas-based GENBAND, a provider of multimedia and cloud communications solutions, of fring’s OTT mobile IP communications service is noteworthy.
A white label cloud solution enabling incumbents to compete against OTTs
For those unfamiliar with fring, this might be a good time to get acquainted. The company provides a comprehensive set of easy-to-use services to the consumer market which include:
fring has over 50 million subscribers, and its OTT services work on 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks. In a crowded market, it has gained rapid popularity in the mass market because of its depth of functionality and ease-of-use on smartphones and tablets, which increasingly are our interaction platforms of choice for real-time communications. Think of this as Skype and it competitors only better in the eyes of satisfied users.
The fring acquisition is an important puzzle piece in GENBAND’s expansion of its offerings. As a major solutions supplier to network operators, GENBAND wanted to fill out its own offerings—which include media gateways, session border controllers and soft switches—to give mobile service providers, mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) and fixed line operators looking to expand their reach into the mobile market through Wi-Fi—a full suite of capabilities to go head-to-head successfully with the OTTs in the consumer market.
David Walsh, CEO of GENBAND, stated that “fring is one of the pioneers that helped change the way consumers communicate on-the-go and is perfectly aligned with our strategy to bring service providers rich, simple-to-use, mobile communications solutions…The fring team and technology enhance our ability to serve our customer base of over 700 service providers around-the-world, fortifying them with a proven platform they can white-label to bring their own brand of OTT services to subscribers. We look forward to leveraging the full potential of fring’s OTT solutions in the marketplace by pairing them with GENBAND’s cutting-edge cloud and WebRTC offerings.”
Fring lets fixed service providers and MSOs have easy entry into OTT mobile communications services. It is also attracting interest from mobile operators and MVNOs as a way to compete with OTTs. In fact, French operator Bouygues Telecom has recently selected fring to offer its customers free phone calls and SMS on Wi-Fi while they are abroad. The reason: fring reduces roaming costs for subscribers by moving voice and video sessions away from radio access networks and routing them over the Internet, where interconnection and call completion economics are more attractive.
“Combining fring’s solutions with GENBAND’s global reach, engineering expertise and complementary cloud service offerings changes the game for service providers,” said Roy Timor Rousso, former CEO of fring and currently a senior executive in GENBAND’s Multimedia Business Unit. “After early successes licensing our solutions to a number of wireless and other carriers, we recognize the power of combining with GENBAND.”
The fit here is a natural since the fring white-label solution for the consumer OTT market segment complements GENBAND’s NUViA white-label Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) offering. Walsh explained that GENBAND is now positioned to offer service providers the ability to deliver user experiences that are superior to offerings from independent OTTs.
In fact, ease of use is a clear differentiator. The fring solution offers seamless routing of calls between wireless and IP networks which means users can initiate or receive calls on the device of their choice from anywhere in the world. What is in it for network operators is that they can leverage their existing billing relationships with customer by easily adding fring service to existing service plans.
“The reality for service providers moving forward is that their relevance is highly dependent on the quality of experience and choices they can deliver to their subscribers,” said Brian Partridge, vice president of Yankee Group Research. “Service providers around the world, and particularly in Europe where roaming charges are extremely high, must evolve their communications services rapidly to ensure that they stay relevant and competitive against disruptive OTT offerings while complementing and enhancing their existing services.”
GENBAND is making the move to bring the fring core competency into its fold as part of its two-year plan to remake the company into a basically software-only company. As new CEO Walsh told TechZone360, “We are growing, profitable and taking share in such key markets as SBCs. In addition, we know in terms of assisting our service provider customers succeed in the consumer as well as the enterprise spaces, we need to have a robust portfolio of offerings in the areas of soft switch, VoLTE and OTT. The fring acquisition is an important part of that effort, in terms of giving our customers the capabilities that give them the best opportunities to create and sustain competitive advantage.”
Walsh also noted a theme that has become common across all industries as they look at IT and communications purchases going forward. “The vendor lists are getting shorter, even to the extent of just having a seat at the table. You need solutions that make sense that span their needs, an articulated road map, along with reference accounts and history of innovation, market agility and for providing outstanding support, to be part of the conversation. We think we cover all of those bases and have an opportunity with major service providers around the world,” he stated.
As recent activities highlight, the market has taken notice and clearly is listening. Check out TechZone360 CEO Rich Tehrani’s blog on why this acquisition has the potential to change the competitive landscape.
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