Until now wireless carriers may not have paid much attention to some new players in the VoIP arena. These include companies like WhatsApp (now owned by Facebook) that sell smartphone apps that give users a limited ability to send text messages or place calls using their mobile data services.
Offerings such as these may let wireless users avoid per-minute and per-message charges, but aren’t really a substitute for traditional voice and text service because they generally lack certain capabilities. For example, they may not support traditional phone numbers that would allow them to receive calls and text messages to or from the PSTN.
The Future of Paid Text Apps
Moving forward, however, over-the-top voice and text apps could be a bigger competitive threat to wireless carriers thanks to a new offering from Bandwidth announced today. Bandwidth is making an application programming interface available to developers of OTT apps that will give the apps the ability to connect to the Bandwidth network and to receive and send calls and messages to and from the PSTN via the Bandwidth network and to gain other PSTN functionality such as phone numbers and support for 911 emergency services.
Bandwidth operates what is essentially a competitive local exchange carrier network, from which it delivers a range of telecom network functionality on a wholesale basis to other network operators and VoIP providers. TDS, for example, uses Bandwidth to support its hosted VoIP and unified communications services outside its home territory.
Until now companies essentially needed some type of network infrastructure to use the Bandwidth offering. But thanks to the new API, that is no longer necessary.
“It’s aimed at software and app companies that are starting to want to become communication companies coming from a software perspective,” said Bandwidth Director of Product Development Jason Sommerset in an interview.
In the past if one of the OTT app companies inquired about buying a Bandwidth offering, the companies would start talking SIP interconnection and the app company would say “we don’t have a network or engineers,” explained Sommerset. By connecting to Bandwidth via an API, the network and engineers are no longer needed.
The new capabilities won’t come for free of course, which means that the OTT app and software companies may need to begin charging end users for PSTN-type capabilities and interconnection or find some other way to cover the added costs.
The situation is not unlike what we saw with VoIP providers like Skype that started out offering free calling to and from other Skype customers but then expanded into paid service to and from regular phone numbers. The difference is that while Skype had some basic network infrastructure reachable through a simple app, some of the newer companies until now have done everything in the app.
Bandwidth has not yet announced any OTT software company customers interconnecting via the new API. WhatsApp is just an example of the kind of company that might use the new offering. But Sommerset said customer announcements for the new offering should be forthcoming.
In a sense Bandwidth will be a competitor to companies like Twilio that offer an API to providers of specialty software such as customer relationship management software to enable the software to support IP-based messaging or voice capability. Like Bandwidth, companies like Twilio make money by providing connectivity services to support software apps but according to Sommerset those companies generally do not provide as wide a range of capabilities as Bandwidth offers.