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Sprint Jibes With OTT Comms

Sarah Thomas
10/14/2013
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Sprint has tapped Jibe Mobile to offer its customers an over-the-top (OTT) alternative to traditional communications.

Right now, the deal amounts to the operator partnering with an OTT app to white-label its service, which works on 3G, 4G, or WiFi, but Jibe Mobile has much bigger plans. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is just the start.

First, how it works: Sprint customers can download the app, rebranded as Message Plus, from the Sprint Zone, online, or through Google Play (for Android) or the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) App Store. At launch, it'll work on several High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) and Samsung Corp. devices, as well as the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5. Sprint says it will eventually be pre-loaded on all Android smartphones.

Once installed, friends and family from any operator network in the US, Canada, or Mexico can be invited to download the app as well. Then they will be able to send cloud-based instant messages, group messages, and video chat, as well as to share photos, videos, and files.

As Jibe CEO Amir Sarhangi describes it, the launch -- coming in mid-fourth quarter -- represents the rebranding of Sprint's communication experience. It mimics FaceTime and WhatsApp, he says, with the benefit of being in the same interface.

His belief is that the move to LTE will inspire a lot more operators to go OTT. When all services are IP-based, the fear of cannibalization of traditional services is much less acute. A service like Jibe can complement voice-over LTE (VoLTE) and operators' rich communications services initiatives, he says. It's the same message Genband Inc. was pushing with its recent acquisition of fring. (See Genband Acquires fring to Help CSPs Go OTT.)

"From our perspective, it's a bold move on the part of Sprint," Sarhangi says, adding that, "longer term, this means users go to new phones and can do a video call without downloading an app or worry if the other person has the app."

While Jibe works on any operator network, it works better if it has a partnership in place with that operator, which can guarantee the quality of service. Sarhangi's goal is to make IM and video chat as ubiquitous and painless as SMS and voice calling is today via operator partnerships across the globe. Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) is also an investor. The CEO says more operators will be announced soon.

Jibe was one of the forces behind Joyn, the GSM Association (GSMA) 's rich communication services (RCS) initiative for cross-carrier cloud communications, which has really only taken hold in Europe. It was also responsible for MetroPCS's RCS-powered app, one of the first to launch last year. Sarhangi says that rather than try to carve business away from the operators like other OTT apps are doing, Jibe is focused on making cloud communications mainstream and simple for the masses. (See MetroPCS Puts Comms Startups on Notice and MetroPCS Intros Video Chat With RCS 5.0.)

"We're trying to bring the innovation happening within the OTT world, taking what's applicable to the mainstream and making it much more accessible and simpler for a user to use these features without having to worry about or stress over whether the other person has the capability or belongs to the community," he says. "As soon as you have to think about it, you lose people."

Right now, Jibe's deployment with Sprint still requires some thinking, but the move to LTE will fuel new forms of communication, Sarhangi says. Jibe wants to be the app powering it behind the scenes.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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R Clark
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R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
10/14/2013 | 5:31:47 PM
Re: Price
Yeah, you wonder what happens to the free model when users start ramping up their usage.

In Hong Kong operators are charging $1 a month for unlimited local data on all messaging services. Chinese operators look like they're trying to make money, charging between $5-$20 a month for various data caps, although that also comes with games and other downloads that are popular among punters.

 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/14/2013 | 4:46:30 PM
Re: Price
Yep, it's free. No plans to charge for it, either, luckily.
Kevin Mitchell
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Kevin Mitchell,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/14/2013 | 4:45:34 PM
Price
Hi Sarah: did you confirm it is a free service? or a freemium model?
RitchBlasi
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RitchBlasi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/14/2013 | 2:13:45 PM
Jibe
Buying.  You have some companies using OTT to offer Unified Communications services, right?  VoIP, video conferencing, messaging, etc.  But when you look at the revenue from these companies it is peanuts compared to operator revenues.  I think one reported revs of $100M annually and that was supposed to be a big deal.  One of the reasons why no buying spree has happened yet.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/14/2013 | 1:59:30 PM
Re: Jibe
True, AT&T allowed it on cellular, but, remember, it did try to restrict it to only certain users until backlash forced it to open it to all data plans.

Did you mean to say "buying" OTT versus partnering with? I ask because I've certainly thought a service provider acquiring an OTT vendor makes a lot of sense, although perhaps their big vendor partners will just do that for them a la Genband and fring.

Also, how are the successful OTTs making money today? Most are free services with some premium tiers. Usage is soaring, but I'm not so sure about revenues yet.
RitchBlasi
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RitchBlasi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/14/2013 | 1:55:02 PM
Jibe
But as you said, that is a feature that will be years in the making for broad adoption.  FaceTime has been available for a couple/few years and once AT&T saw not a lot of folks were using it they didn't restrict it to Wi-Fi.

I think this is the first move in operators buying OTT companies and incorporating services for their all-IP networks.  These companies have been generating revenues from these services while the operators focused on their main business.  Pretty sure I've read a bunch of articles and had the conversation with analsyts that the carriers are still trying to figure out how to make money with OTT - just buy someone who already knows.  Just like technology and apps, not everything needs to be grown in-home.  :-) 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/14/2013 | 1:51:06 PM
Re: Questions for Sprint?
I'm also moderating a Keynote panel on the threats and opportunities with OTT tomorrow at the IIT in Chicago. Executives from Comcast, AT&T and T-Mobile will be joining me. Let me know if you have any questions for me to throw at them!

Here are the details: http://www.rtc-conference.com/conference-schedule-listings/
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/14/2013 | 1:49:41 PM
Re: Jibe
Good point, Ritch. If the cellular video chat experience is really good, Sprint's customers might not seek out WiFi as much anymore. That could cause it to rethink its unlimited data plans real fast!
RitchBlasi
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RitchBlasi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/14/2013 | 1:46:48 PM
Jibe
Yes, verycool and a way to get more usage out of its network.  What will be interesting is to see how the OTT services, especially video chat, eats away at a user's data plan.  If it tends to be a bandwidth pig I wonder if Sprint will have some sort of adjustment to its unlimited plan. 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/14/2013 | 1:30:22 PM
Free OTT
One other thing -- I believe this is a free service, but Jibe's CEO Sarhangi said if operators want to charge for it (after initially slipping up and saying "when"), it could support that. Let's hope they don't count IMs against the text cap. It should be a free service. The value for them is that it drives data usage.
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