It’s no secret that it’s been getting tougher and tougher for wire-line operators to compete in the telephony space.
“They’ve been beaten down on voice margins, then eroded by Skype and Google Voice over-the-top solutions,” as Todd Carothers, senior vice president of products and marketing for Vancouver BC-based CounterPath Corporation, put it to Enterprise VoIPplanet in a recent interview.
“But also, by the mobile operators, who have taken over the phone number game, and that has gotten them a lot of new customers that are just tied to their mobile,” Carothers added.
And this is the main context for the recent announcement of the release of Counterpath’s Network Convergence Gateway (NCG) as a hosted service—now known as NCG Exchange.
The NCG is a fixed/mobile convergence gateway that connects IP phone networks with mobile networks, allowing fixed-line VoIP operators to send communications (both voice and SMS and instant messaging) to and receive them from “any mobile device on any mobile network.”
So the basic thinking behind the NCG as a product-only solution is “trying to bring new revenue resources to our customers on the fixed line side,” Carothers said.
So why Network Convergence Gateway Exchange? It’s a way to get them to market more quickly.
“Over the past year we’ve been working with a variety of different providers on the messaging component and also the voice call continuity applications” Carothers explained. (The “voice continuity application” refers to what is also called the “handover” of in-progress communications across networks—from the fixed-line to the mobile or vice versa.”)
“One of the things we’ve found this year is that some of the providers we work with could have gotten to the market sooner if we had a hosted solution,” he said.
“When we talk to the operational guys, they say ‘This is new technology for us; we don’t understand the mobile network at all. We don’t understand how to connect to the messaging hub, for example. Can you help us do that?’ ”
“That’s the main message we’ve been receiving from the market,” Carothers told VoIPplanet.
“We kicked off this hosted solution to address that pain, if you will. By doing that, we can actually reduce the cycle—once they say ‘go’—to about a quarter to half the time, to get to market. That’s the main driver why we took this from a product-only solution to a hosted solution.”
But simply giving fixed-line VoIP operators a way to mobilize their services is only half the story on NCG Exchange. “We’re not just going to help you compete at par with these [mobile] services but go beyond that with additional services,” Carothers asserted.
Whereas the solution initially focused on voice, as CounterPath has continued to develop NCG, it has taken on many of the trappings of a full fledged unified communications suite.
Last fall, for example, the company added the Network Messaging Gateway (now simply wrapped into the NCG—making one less acronym to deal with), which provides a VoIP phone number with both SMS and instant messaging (IM) services, based on SIP SIMPLE.
“That means the user of this service can send a text message that’s readable and can be received by anyone on the mobile network—worldwide. When people respond back to that VoIP number, it comes back to that person’s client on the [CounterPath softphone] Bria desktop—or the Bria mobile phones,” Carothers elaborated.
That’s huge all by itself, but CounterPath hasn’t stopped there. “For example, we’re in discussions with a group of operators about group SMS capability—an interface for your customers to create a group list or address book to send out a text message to what we call a ‘soccer mom list,” he said.
This goes beyond what mobile operators are offering.
Moreover, as part of the IM piece, NCG Exchange offers messaging presence, which show the availability of all the users on an operator’s network that subscribe to this aspect of the service.
Finally, the standard NCG feature set includes the ability to ring multiple devices. “If a fixed-line operator has customers that have devices that will participate in this service, but aren’t on their network, we can still ring those numbers,” Carothers explained.
“If someone dials the VoIP identity, we can ring their IP phone that’s attached to the service, ring their Bria softphone on the PC desktop, or the mobile, whether a smartphone, such as the iPhone or a dumb phone, such as a Motorola RAZR.”