Analysis: Impressive Ribbit Mobile Launch - BT Steps Beyond The Network
Ribbit, the SIlicon Valley based subsidiary of BT, the UK telecom giant, this morning launched its Ribbit Mobile service which offers a suite of products ranging from control over phone lines to transcription of voice mail--all managed from a web browser.
Users can make free phone calls over the Ribbit network; they can switch calls to other numbers in mid-call; they can create a "clone" of their phone through a web browser; they can have voicemail messages transcribed, and many other services.
The cost for the premium service is $30 per month. Although Ribbit calls this a "consumer" service it is really designed for the mobile business person, a "road warrior." There is a free, and a $10 a month version with certain limitations.
Ribbit is a platform...
Last week I met with Ribbit CEO Ted Griggs, Don Thorson CMO, and Crick Waters EVP Strategy and Business Development.
It might seem that Ribbit is a developer of telephony applications such as Ribbit Mobile but that's not the case. Ribbit enables applications like Ribbit Mobile.
It has built a technology platform that merges voice and data telecommunications networks over the Internet using a software switch approach. Developers use its APIs to create a wide diversity of telephony services and to integrate them into other applications.
"Ribbit Mobile is a complex service, but yes, a third-party developer could have created it," said Crick Waters, EVP Strategy and Business Development.
A Silicon Valley phone company...
Ribbit likes to call itself "Silicon Valley's first phone company." I have written about the company several times and recognized its potential to disrupt the larger Telco companies.
When it was acquired by BT last year, I was disappointed. I wrote:
Ted Griggs, CEO, said: "The BT acquisition enables us to scale our technology across a large telecoms network. And BT's international business connections become very beneficial in helping us to enter new markets -- it would have taken us much longer if we were to try and do this ourselves."
The acquisition of Ribbit was masterminded by BT's JP Rangaswami, managing director of innovation and strategy.
I met with Mr Rangaswami in July, during a visit to London, and I was impressed with his understanding of how Ribbit's technology could be used to move BT into new markets. I was also impressed by his strategy of moving BT into many types of innovative services, recognizing the business potential in becoming a platform for thousands of third-party developers rather than trying to own the applications.
Google Voice and other competitors...
While there are competing services to Ribbit Mobile such as Google Voice, there isn't any competition in terms of the combined telecoms platform that Ribbit and BT can provide.
This is something that Google will have to address, not just for Google Voice but also for other services. Google will have to partner or acquire a large telecoms platform otherwise it can be blocked in its future ambitions.
Showing developers the money
The key test for Ribbit will come from its ability to attract developers.
Don Thorson, CMO, has come up with an unique way to reward developers. "We will offer the applications for free and then split the revenues with developers based on how much usage they get per month per user."
This is a much better model than for iPhone or Android developers. Apple likes to point to the more than 85,000 iPhone apps but this is not a sustainable business model if just a tiny fraction of developers are making money. The winning platform will be the one on which developers can make money.
Plus, Ribbit developers get access to BT's billing systems and BT's existing relationship with millions of households and businesses.
Clone your phone...
There is another aspect to Ribbit that is very interesting, it allows you to "clone" your phone. A web based version of your phone is available from any computer device. If you were to lose your phone you would still be able to access it from any web browser.
This potentially provides an end-run around all the phone wars and takes BT beyond the phone and beyond the confines of its own network. Android or iPhone, it doesn't matter in Ribbit's world.
Ribbit becomes the point of the spear for BT's new business ambitions while at the same time allowing third-party developers to share in the action.
It's a potent business strategy and one that I don't see at any other telco. It'll be interesting to see how competitors will react. In the meantime, Ribbit and BT have a head start.
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