F/MC Watch: CounterPath Has it Both Ways

CounterPath Corporation is best known for its popular softphones, including eyeBeam, which is used by carriers ranging from Vonage to BT—but over the past year, the company has also moved aggressively into the world of fixed/mobile convergence (F/MC).

CounterPath’s two key F/MC offerings, the Network Convergence Gateway (NCG) and the Enterprise Mobility Gateway (EMG), both came from acquisitions in early 2008—the NCG from the company’s purchase of Bridgeport Networks, and the EMG from its acquisition of FirstHand Technologies.

Even as the company is moving into new territory, CounterPath’s softphone products continue to do extremely well: The company recently announced that its free X-Lite client has reached 340,000 downloads per month—or about 11,000 downloads a day. “Last year, our fiscal year revenue was $9 million, and that’s up from $5.7 million the previous fiscal year—and we’ve done that purely on the soft client business,” says company vice president of product management Todd Carothers.

Enterprise Mobility Gateway
The Enterprise Mobility Gateway (EMG) is targeted (logically enough) at enterprise customers. “What RIM/BlackBerry did for e-mail connectivity, extending it into the mobile domain, we’re doing that for PBX services,” Carothers says. “[The EMG is] an over-the-top solution—there’s no coordination with the carrier required.”

Basic setup is straightforward: The gateway itself is directly connected to the PBX, and communicates with the company’s Bria Mobile client on users’ mobile phones. “That’s really the only setup you have—you have the gateway that sits in the perimeter, and then you have the clients that reside on a variety of devices,” Carothers says.

And the result is a broad range of mobile functionality. “The user will run a Symbian, a Windows Mobile, or a RIM client on their phone… and when they’re out on the cellular network, they have access to the features of the PBX that’s hosted at their enterprise,” Carothers says. “Whether it be IM, voicemail access, creating a group chat, creating a group call, those types of features are accessible via their mobile phone.”

In the year or so since the FirstHand acquisition, Carothers says, CounterPath has focused specifically on expanding the range of mobile clients supported. “We didn’t want to make a choice between just Symbian and Windows Mobile—we wanted to have the majority of the smartphone market… so we added more clients—and we added more features,” he says.

Additional features that are currently in development, Carothers says, include integration between the desktop and mobile clients, support for VoWi-Fi—and a Web client for non-smartphones. “It’ll be able to have some feature sets available via a Web phone—so virtually any phone will be able to access our EMG at that point… it broadens our handset reach to basically every phone on the planet,” he says.

Pricing for the solution is set by CounterPath’s channel partners, though Carothers says per seat licensing generally starts at a list price of about $200. “I’ve heard other competitors out there selling their seats at $400… since it’s a new market, it hasn’t settled down to a specific price point,” he says.

Network Convergence Gateway
Unlike the EMG, the Network Convergence Gateway (NCG) sits in the core of the mobile network. “It’s primarily developed for a mobile carrier—however, it could also sit within an MVNO… or within a broadband operator, and then they would have a relationship with a mobile operator to have access to the mobile core via SS7,” Carothers says.

One of the solutions enabled by the NCG, Carothers says, is the MobileSTICK, a USB flash drive with a softphone on it. “The user opens their laptop… and they plug in this USB stick,” he says. “Its SIM authenticates via the NCG into the mobile core, and that user is able to make and receive voice calls, video calls, text messaging, and that type of thing, right from their PC—and if they make a call to someone, that person they’re making the call to is going to see the caller ID of their mobile phone… and if someone calls their mobile phone, it’s going to ring both on their mobile phone and on the PC.”

Earlier this month, CounterPath announced the receipt of U.S. patent number 7,502,615 for the handoff technology between cellular and IP telephony that’s key to the NCG offering. “It creates the dual registration capability between the mobile network and SIP network so that we can do handovers really quickly,” Carothers says.

Looking forward, Carothers says, the next step for CounterPath will be something that looks more like a combination of the EMG and the NCG. “We’re working on projects that are NCG-based with mobile operators that want to sell mobile Centrex services into the enterprise… you’ll see, for example, the EMG tied with the NCG to enable presence-based routing of calls from users in the mobile environment,” he says.

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