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