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Mobilkom Meets Fring

So, Mobilkom Austria has signed up mobile SIP developers Fring to create their new voice & messaging service. This is an exciting development; Mobilkom reckons it’s the first time a carrier has taken such a step, and we’re fairly sure they’re right. The nearest example would be BT and Ribbit, and there’s still plenty of uncertainty about how that will pan out. Fring is a mobile VoIP startup we covered in our Voice & Messaging 2.0 report.

The first point to consider here is that Mobilkom is starting right in the middle; although they have networks right across the Balkans and south-eastern Europe, this is happening at headquarters in Austria, under their core A1 brand. In the past, they’ve often tried out new service offerings elsewhere in the group, as they did with their impressive converged carrier VoIP offering and their WiMAX broadband deployment.

Arguably, this shows that they’ve internalised an important point about Telco 2.0; change will require the support of the organisation. BT, for example, launched its Web21C developer environment without answering the questions “Who is in charge of this?” or “Which bit of the company promotes this?” In fact, a reorganisation early in the program actually broke up the organisational unit that had originally been responsible for Web21C and Project Firebird and shifted the executive in charge elsewhere; and the rest is history, as is the project itself.

Another important point about Telco 2.0 this makes clear is that you shouldn’t be religious about any particular technology. Fring, like so many other V&M2.0 startups, launched itself from the work done by the IETF to develop and standardise SIP. Specifically, they’ve always worked exclusively in the IETF’s version of it; Mobilkom, however, has been quite enthusiastic for IMS, and has deployed IMS technology, having started off by developing its own SDP. So long as you’re being well-behaved, though, and not using any nonstandard or nonopen “extensions”, it shouldn’t be that difficult to integrate a third-party SIP client with an IMS SIP network.

It will be interesting to know if the new service will actually use IMS, in the sense of routing its SIP traffic through Mobilkom’s CSCF rather than either simply working as normal, getting only connectivity from the network, or using Fring servers within Mobilkom’s SDP. All this also means that the service could ride on Mobilkom’s Balkan WiMAX networks as well as it does on its Austrian UMTS net.

Thirdly, this is an example of something we come back to over and over again. You’re unlikely to come up with a killer application inside your marketing department; you’re marginally more likely to do so in your R&D department (if you have one), but it’s still not that likely. And the very idea of a killer application is flawed. Instead, people in closer touch with user needs and changing technology are likely to do better, so you need to create the network APIs, community infrastructure, and terms of business they require.

It looks like Mobilkom is going to drop the carrier VoIP service we mentioned, essentially replacing its client with Fring’s, and then start deploying Fring for its mobile customers; A1 over IP was a fairly impressive offering, integrating as it did their PSTN, PC VoIP and mobile services, but no-one will be surprised to learn that a telco wasn’t ideally placed to design a great user interface or user experience. Bringing Fring on board means not only that the feedback cycle for changes to the user experience gets a hell of a lot quicker, but also that Fring’s own developer ecosystem comes along too. So you’re going from major systems integration to widgetry in one deal.

Finally, disintermediation is inevitable; if Mobilkom is going to provide its users with the full Fring feature set, this means that they can choose whatever source of SIP termination they like, or even use SkypeOut instead; wholesale competition will be right there on the handset. But this is the heart of Telco 2.0; it’s about accepting that competition and responding by creating fantastic new products.

Update: We were able to conduct a Q&A with Fring’s VP of marketing, Roy Timor Rousso, and network architect, Boaz Zilberman, and here it is!

How do you plan to build up a developer community around the Mobilkom deployment?
The fring API program is open for all and for all partners, meaning that any add-on developed by the fring community is available for users from A1 just like any other users
Will there be access to any of their network functions (identity authentication, payments, location etc) for Fring developers?
Not at this stage, we will discuss these capabilities in the near future
What is the business model - for Mobilkom? Is it pure data charging, or something more sophisticated? And for Fring?
Value to users, branding , marketing and leadership positioning is leading the relationship. In the future we may discuss potential revenue share.
Is there any mechanism for third-party developers to profit from their work for this?
As I mentioned above any Add-on developed  for the fring community will be also available to the A1 users,
Will the Mobilkom version include the full feature set of Fring, including the ability to choose your SIP wholesaler?
Are you using Mobilkom’s IMS core? Or is Fring staying IETF SIP? Or are there now Fring SIP servers in their SDP?  
Fring is integrating into A1’s IMS core via the SIP/SIMPLE protocol
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