BT Retail, a division of British Telecommunications, has some five million residential broadband customers. Voice has for some time been a component of each of its three Total Broadband packages, including some free calling in the U.K.
This week, BT introduced the BT Softphone, a free, downloadable telephony application, crafted by Vancouver, BC-based CounterPath Solutions. Mirroring the pattern established by Skype and like-minded telephony services, BT will make calls between BT Softphones free, regardless of location.
Under the hood, BT Softphone is a custom re-engineered version of CounterPath’s SIP-based eyeBeam 1.5, first released in March 2006. Among other things, according to CounterPath president and COO, Donovan Jones, “we changed the look and feel of the interface, so it doesn’t look at all like eyeBeam.” It’s an iPod-like GUI design that sits on top of eyeBeam. “They designed it and we integrated it,” Jones explained.
The ability to quickly customize and add functionality is largely responsible for CounterPath’s securing the BT deal—and others like it, according to Jones. “We’re able to do a lot of things as a result of being very standards compliant, and we have a very disciplined approach to implementing new functionality,” he told VoIPplanet.com.
A customer like BT, Jones explained, typically comes with a want-list of functions or features it already supports and seeks to implement in a softphone. “Our real strength is the ability to be flexible enough to integrate that kind of functionality—as well as being interoperable with all of the other network elements that they might have,” he said. “We spend a lot of time on integration and interoperability.”
Despite the different look and feel, the BT Softphone carries all the basic capabilities of eyeBeam 1.5—voice, video, and instant messaging—as well as its advanced security and quality of service features, according to Jones. It’s not clear whether—or, more likely, when—BT will make the non-voice functionality available to its customers, but Jones suggested that the range of applications was likely to broaden over time.
“I don’t want to forward-disclose anything for BT,” he said, “but things interesting to companies like BT would be things such as IPTV—things like being able to integrate more interesting applications into what, effectively, is a user interface.”
It’s all about customer retention, he explained. ” Ultimately, they want to keep subscribers, and they want to drive ARPU [average revenue per user], so the way you do that is create interesting and compelling things for them to do and drive some revenue from that. The BT Softphone is the first phase of this approach and we look forward to working with BT in the future on the development of new multimedia applications and services.”
Given that CounterPath expects its 2007 revenues to double the previous year’s—largely through similar but as-yet-unannounced deals with carriers and cable providers—we can expect similar offerings to start popping up on this side of the Atlantic any time now.