GNum out to bridge online and mobile communications
By Gabey Goh December 2, 2014
- Allows calls from virtually any electronic device to a GNum user’s mobile phone
- ‘Telcos are sick of over-the-top players ‘eating their lunch’ for free’
WITH a go-to-market strategy that’s centred on working with telco operators and not against them, for Singapore startup GNum Pte Ltd, it’s all about the careful positioning of its product within the comfort zone of decision makers.
In an interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), chief executive officer Alexandre Yokoyama (pic above) shared that the company was in final stage of negotiations with a local telco provider and hopes to make an official announcement soon.
“We’re the new kid on the block and telcos are sick of over-the-top (OTT) players ‘eating their lunch’ for free.
“We want to be a viable partner for telcos to work with, so we have to make them feel comfortable about GNum as a product,” he said.
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GNum, incorporated late last year, is a commercial spinoff of GlobalRoam Group Limited. The startup has developed a patent-pending technology that allows calls from virtually any electronic device – PC, tablet and other mobile phones – to be routed to a GNum user’s mobile phone, without the need for a prior application download, unlike most hybrid peer-to-peer client-server systems.
Its call name – a personalised URL for each user – can be shared easily through text or image hyperlinks in email signatures, documents, tweets, blogs and social media profiles. It also allows users to stay contactable without revealing their mobile numbers in the public domain.
The service claims superior voice quality as it utilises the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network instead of peer-to-peer services that use traditional VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).
The company intends to operate on a freemium and revenue-sharing business model with telco partners.
The freemium aspect comes from GNum sponsoring the first 200 minutes to telco subscribers, who will be charged for calls made to them via its network, a move Yokoyama described as a “disruptive” billing model.
The revenue-sharing component will kick in via credit top-ups purchased through partners as well as GNum being bundled as a value-added service (VAS) for telcos to offer to enterprise or small and medium businesses (SMBs).
Under the hood
GNum does not require both caller and receiver to be subscribers, only the receiver – and the company is sweetening its pitch to telco operators with what it claims is are unique offerings.
“GlobalRoam has SmartMap technology to pre-map all phone numbers and we’ve pre-provisioned for all Singapore mobile numbers for GNum, which is unique to us,” Yokoyama said.
GNum leverages a mix of open source and proprietary technologies. When a call is made on a web browser, it activates a VoIP call through the GNum SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) proxy server.
The receiving number is then verified and directed to a trunk media gateway (TMG) that is connected to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The gateway converts the VoIP SIP call to a PSTN compatible call and establishes a call to the receiving user.
“The open source component is where we deliver our service via the personalised URL, while how the call is converted from VoIP and connected to a PSTN network is proprietary.
“How we implement that is unique to GNum, and we have a perpetual licence from GlobalRoam to use this technology,” said Yokoyama.
The solution is still patent-pending with the application filed last year and currently undergoing evaluation. Yokoyama said that due to the solution’s mix of open and proprietary elements, more time is required to establish that its solution does not infringe any previous intellectual property rights.
Birth of an idea
In many ways GNum, whose solution stems from a long-term research partnership between GlobalRoam and the National University of Singapore (NUS), could be considered a natural offshoot of its parent company.
GlobalRoam, with its speciality in ICT services, has a core expertise in developing telco solutions, done either on contract or engaged to upgrade and integrate legacy infrastructure to new applications and products.
In the course of growing as a business, the company developed its own portfolio of technology via partnerships with universities, of which one of was NUS.
University researchers would present potential technology solutions to GloblRoam, which would then sponsor their research and development, allowing the company to build up its portfolio of patents.
One such technology was the capability to bridge online and offline (or traditional) communications, with the decision made about seven years ago to move forward on further developing it.
The decision came from the observation made then that can be attributed in part to an emerging phenomenon outlined in a Wired article published in 2008 called The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.
In it, Wired talked about the rise of apps for services like Facebook, Twitter, Pandora and Netflix – powered by the birth of the smartphone.
“No-one could have predicted the transformations the industry would have gone through since then, but they could see that there was a shift from generic information from browsers to specific apps delivering more meaningful and relevant information to users,” said Yokoyama.
“Because of that, the thought was ‘If people were on-the-go more and using more apps, why not create a voice system chat, allowing feature phone users to be part of the community?’ To let them be part of the party,” he added.
Research analysts and industry watchers have predicted the extinction of feature phones, thanks to upgrade cycles and the introduction of more affordable entry-level smartphones by manufacturers.
Yokoyama believes that this will be the case “in the long run” and will come true earlier for richer and more mature markets. For emerging markets though, feature phones are still alive and well.
“This has been the mantra but I don’t see that happening in emerging markets just yet. We hear more about smartphones but in terms of number of devices, feature phones still dominate about 70% of devices owned around the world.
“For example, when I go back to Brazil for Christmas, the majority of phones I see are feature phones – now new models even offer dual SIM cards.
“There are two factors to this: First, you have to be able to afford the device; and secondly, afford the connection.
“The ownership trend in markets like Brazil, where there is a large segment of the population that’s not affluent, is they first get a second-hand feature phone, then a new feature phone after which they will look at a smartphone,” he said.
Yokoyama believes it will take another 12 years for feature phones to really begin their slide into obscurity in emerging markets, and until then, the original GNum mission of “bringing feature phone owners into the online party” still holds water.
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