Former fring CEO explains Kandy for developers and the future of OTT

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with Roy Timor Rousso, executive vice president of kloud product strategy at Genband

Roy Timor Rousso, executive vice president of kloud product strategy at Frisco, Texas-based Genband, is the former CEO of fring, one of the pioneers in free VoIP and video calls, live chat and more for "fringsters." Last fall, Genband acquired fring's OTT mobile IP communications service, which works across multiple smartphone platforms.

At Genband's recent Perspectives14 Customer & Partner Summit in Orlando, Fla., Rousso and other executives gave attendees a sneak peak at Kandy, a platform-as-a-service that allows service providers to expose their network resources using APIs, SDKs and Quick Starts. The idea is to give developers the tools so that they can more easily bring real-time communications to applications. Genband wants to attract a groundswell of developers to Kandy, which is expected to be commercially available by September.

Rousso, who commutes from his home base in Tel Aviv, Israel, sat down with Fierce contributor Monica Alleven to discuss fring's integration into Genband and what he sees as the future of OTT for telecom providers. The following is an edited and condensed version of that conversation.

FierceDeveloper: With the introduction of Kandy, is there a new division and is this replacing fring?

Rousso: No, it's building around fring and augmenting fring. Fring will stay as a brand. Genband took a strategic decision to move into services, from selling boxes to doing something else. This something else is services, software on the cloud. We're taking all the old traditional technologies of Genband and we're modernizing them, not in the feature set but actually in the way it's going to be serviced to customers.

In practicality, it means that fring is utilizing the components of Genband, being uploaded into cloud… We are externalizing that to customers under the fring brand. The fring brand is using Kandy components.

Even before the acquisition, fring was a closed ecosystem. We used our own proprietary thing. Now, we expanded that and we're actually, on the one hand, giving Genband the mother ship, our SDKs, and we're taking their SDKs, we're harmonizing it and that's the building blocks of the entire offering in the cloud. So when I go to Carrier X with an OTT offering, I will use Kandy APIs, SDKs. When I go to an enterprise, fring for enterprise will be using the same bucket of Kandy APIs and SDKs but probably different ones. There's a pool of SDKs and APIs and based on the business, you can choose the right one.

At the same time, Kandy will be--it's not yet--will be a portal for the long tail of the stand-alone independent developers, whether they are someone who's moonlighting and developing his own app or they're the developer within an [enterprise]. Kandy in that essence is kind of two things.

FierceDeveloper: How has the integration of fring into Genband gone?

Rousso: We were acquired nine months ago. The entire management team is still here. I don't know any better statement than that. We're making progress and moving forward.

It's not because of the money. It's not that we joined Genband and everyone is a millionaire, a billionaire and huge bonuses. No, it's because of the interest and the challenge and the opportunity and what we see in front of us, the ability to make a difference.

FierceDeveloper: Can you talk about fring and the motivation to join Genband?

Rousso: Fring was created in 2006 by veterans from the telco and the Internet. It was a consumer brand for more than four years, but it wasn't able to maintain its edginess. Fring misunderstood the market in a very simple way. Until recently, fring was a user name and password, like Skype, and that's not a mobile experience, that's an IM experience. Then came along Viber … Viber understood the market very well and executed very well. 

When I came on board at the beginning of 2011, I had to reassess the situation. The board told me, this is very simple, you need to pivot the company. So I did an assessment and said on the one hand, the consumer space is very saturated. It's very difficult to create a differentiated value proposition, and none of us is making money--peanuts.

At the same time, the telecom industry is changing rapidly. OTT is no longer the Satan, or the big devil, or whatever you want to call it. So actually it might be an opportunity for us with service providers. Let's just make sure we know how to deal with that.  Basically what I said was OK, I'm going to take the assets that fring developed in the consumer space and we're going to wrap it up for you, the carrier. But the business model will be different; it will be pay as you go, pay as you grow. Your success is my success. 

FierceDeveloper: Are there any projects you can talk about with U.S. operators?

Rousso: We have initiatives with U.S. operators, but nothing I can really say out loud. I would say the U.S. is on one hand a bit more conservative, but at the same time, with specific segments, more aggressive. With carriers in the U.S., you can say: This is the target audience, they're in college and they're using smartphones. Actually, they're not talking on the phone at all, they're texting much more than talking, they're using their iPads and mobile phones to exchange text and Instagram and those types of services. [Operators are saying]: "We want to be able to be part of this system." There, in that space, they are very aggressive. I would say more than the European ones, because they understand that this is the place, that if they are not able to [attract] them with value, they will lose this generation, so it's like either we do something or we might find ourselves without users in that specific segment in 10 years.

FierceDeveloper: In what areas are you seeing operators holding back?

Rousso: All the carriers, without exception, will go to OTT. Their cadence will differ based on market conditions, market penetrations.

FierceDeveloper: What do you see going on with RCS, Rich Communications Services?

Rousso: We support it. I would say most of the Tier 1 carriers are saying: Are you RCS compliant? Yes, we are. We're not developing our own RCS protocols. What we provide is complementary deployment on non RCS-enabled devices. You deploy RCS, let's say on 30 percent of devices--what about the other 70 percent? You need fring or the frings of the world to do the interop.

I think the path that we're taking from traditional telephony to something much more on services, software, Kandy as the concept--I think that's an interesting time. I think it's very innovative and bold, and I think that if we execute well, then there's a really unique market position.