Vopium, a provider of prepaid international mobile VoIP based in Denmark, has carved out a small but growing niche for its services in Scandinavia and Great Britain since entering the fray in 2006.
With a new white label offering, the company says it is building on its chief marketing strategy, namely, partnerships. Company executives are betting that links with traditional carriers will be the most effective way boost small players into the big time.
Vopium CEO Tanveer Sharif predicted an industry-wide trend toward teaming up. In the near future, “you will see more partnerships between players like Vopium and the old-school incumbents, the ISPs, the fixed line operators, as well as niche partners targeting specific groups like a Latin American television station,” he said.
Vopium expects shortly to announce a partnership with a North American carrier that has ties to Latin America. The carrier has no mobile offering—that’s where Vopium comes in—while Vopium will leverage the partner’s ties to gain access to a market that otherwise would likely have been inaccessible.
Sharif points to the recent cooperative agreement between Skype and Verizon as an example of the same dynamic playing out among larger players, saying such deals work to his advantage. In fact, he said, mobile VoIP activity at all levels within the industry is proving a boon to emerging providers.
“The market is heating up. It’s good to see all those creative ideas coming to the market,” he said. Until just recently Vopium and similar companies have had a hard time convincing fixed line operators that mobile VoIP could have a place within their broader offerings. As bigger names place their bets, more prospective players have proven willing to join the game.
Part of the shift has to do, naturally enough, with financial considerations. In previous analyses, traditional entities have seen mobile as a net loss: A diminishing of bread-and-butter landline calls. Emerging revenue models are helping to convince them that the long-term benefits of a mobile offering will offset the short-term loss, Sharif said.
A mobile VoIP offering could make up for potential gaps in coverage among traditional players, he said. While an AT&T or Verizon might be able to deliver great rates in Mexico or the UK, for example, it may require the services of a smaller, more nimble player like himself to secure the right connections in Peru or Brazil.
There may be a hitch, though, when it comes to forging those ties that are so crucial to Vopium’s business plan. As Sharif readily acknowledges, the company is not well known outside of Scandinavia. Thus its brand offering is of limited value to potential partners.
That’s where the white label comes in. In support of the recently announced white label offering, the company has developed a proprietary IT and VoIP platform that has been running for the past six months. It says the platform will make its product offerings available to a broad range of potential partners. The white label solution is available across some 600 handsets. Vopium currently supports iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Java, Symbian, and Windows Mobile.
In addition to the white label function, Vopium also has put forward a number of new consumer-centric functions. One new feature allows users to make free calls to Skype, Gtalk, and Vopium users when they are online.
Vopium users also can now call follow friends on Twitter, in addition to chatting with them on Skype, MSN, Yahoo!, and elsewhere,.
On a more technical front, Vopium also now has its own VoIP client, allowing Wi-Fi calls and 3G VoIP calls on devices without an embedded VoIP client. That’s the kind of thing Sharif hopes no one ever thinks about. Vopium has always tried to stand out by being as transparent and intuitive to the user as possible. Sharif calls this an essential component in the effort to bring mobile VoIP to the broader marketplace.
“We give you a seamless experience. From day one we have said we don’t want to educate people to do something different from what they are used to,” he said.
That pitch seems to resonate. From fewer than 20,000 customers a year ago, Vopium has secured about 150,000 customers today, Sharif said.