SMS SPECIAL REPORT: Taking on the OTT world

27 August 2015 |


Roy Timor-Rousso, general manager of the fring Alliance, tells Capacity's Agnes Stubbs why service providers should join the global federated platform to take on OTT players.

At Mobile World Congress 2015, multimedia and cloud communications company Genband announced the launch of the fring Alliance, an industry-wide federation designed to create a real-time communications (RTC) platform for service providers around the world.

Genband acquired fring in 2013 for an estimated $50 million as part of a move to expand its cloud portfolio in the consumer market. Two years on and the company has developed fring’s communications platform– adding the service to its cloud-based, software development platform Kandy and extending it to carriers looking to develop voice, video and messaging services. 

The platform aims to help service providers win back subscribers from OTT players, with the likes of WhatsApp grabbing a large chunk of the person-to-person messaging market in recent years. 

“OTTs – whether big or small – are islands. They don’t want to build bridges. That’s their strategy today,” says Roy Timor-Rousso, general manager of the fring Alliance. “If I want to talk to you on Viber and you’re not on the service – I can’t. The same goes for Skype and WhatsApp.” 

The fring Alliance seeks to counter that by bringing together participating carriers under one federation to battle OTT players.  

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The initiative works on the principle that service providers will pool together subscribers and networks. It claims to challenge OTT players with a white-label, fully federated and centralised OTT platform with real-time services such as mobile group video chat, two-way video chat, voice-only calls, and text chat.   

“Customers don’t want to change applications and devices. They have one identity and want to be able to apply that on any device, screen, and network,” says Timor-Rousso. 

Some operators, such as Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica, have tried to take on OTTs through launching their own startup initiatives without posing any significant threat. 

Over seven years ago, the GSMA also tried to encourage service providers to unite together through its joyn initiative aimed at creating inter-operator communications service based on IP multimedia subsystem (IMS). It took, however, approximately five years before the service reached commercialisation, and joyn has since played catch-up in the fast-paced and competitive OTT space. 

How does the fring Alliance hope to succeed in a space where so many other service providers have struggled? Timor-Rousso points out that joyn calls for certain prerequisites from service providers that the fring Alliance does not require. Most RCS require operators to have an IP IMS core within their networks. In comparison, the fring Alliance is ideologically open – all that is required is an internet connection and an operating system on the other side, he claims.

“The fring Alliance is, first and foremost, designed as an OTT service. Our DNA comes from OTT services. We want to be able to introduce features as we see them – aggressively and quickly. It is designed to run on the cloud and completely on an application programming interface (API),” says Timor-Rousso. 

He claims that services and features can be brought to market faster because of the platform’s agile and flexible configuration options within their API and software development kit (SDK). 

“The biggest advantage for carriers is that they don’t need to change or upgrade their IMS. That’s the biggest difference between us and joyn, or other Web RCS,” he says.  

Timor-Rousso points out that carriers should also consider ways of capitalising on assets such as their ownership of customers’ mobile numbers, subscriber data and billing systems. 

Whether or not the service gains traction remains to seen but Timor-Rousso believes the fring Alliance will prove to be a success as all participating carriers have a vested interest in fuelling its growth. 

“The business structure of the fring Alliance isn’t centred on what we are selling to carriers. We are creating a communication platform in which we are all partners. Your success is my success,” he says.  

“What we’re trying to achieve isn’t just another OTT social network – that isn’t the objective. We want to take the best user experiences of the OTT world and bring them into multiple screens, multiple networks and multiple devices. That’s how we can bring real value to users.”