Genband buys iPhone VoIP pioneer fring to help carriers fight Skype and WhatsApp

Fring, the Israeli communications firm that was the first to successfully offer VoIP services to iPhone users, has been bought. The buyer is Frisco, Texas-based Genband and the price, according to a source cited by Reuters, was $50 million.

The thinking behind the deal goes like this. Genband, which already works with carriers and device manufacturers to integrate unified communications services for business users (and which raised a whopping $343.5 million in April) wants to up its game on the consumer front. Now, carriers will be able to buy in and customize fring-based text, voice and video chat technology, so they can try to fend off “over-the-top” (OTT) players such as Skype(s msft) and WhatsApp.

Genband CEO David Walsh said in a statement:

“Fring is one of the pioneers that helped change the way consumers communicate on-the-go and is perfectly aligned with our strategy to bring service providers rich, simple-to-use, mobile communications solutions. The fring team and technology enhance our ability to serve our customer base of over 700 service providers around-the-world, fortifying them with a proven platform they can white-label to bring their own brand of OTT services to subscribers.”

Interestingly, Genband is pitching the tech primarily at fixed-line carriers who want to get into the mobile communications business effectively as OTT players, hitching a ride on the mobile carriers’ data networks. Such companies will be less concerned about cannibalizing their own services.

That said, many mobile operators have been developing in-house apps to combat OTT rivals, and Genband reckons fring’s technology will make the job easier for them too. Of course, in this scenario we’re potentially talking about operators disrupting their own services, but – managed right – there is potential. Just look at Orange, which is using its Libon OTT platform as a way of attracting younger customers.

Fring has actually been offering its own white-label package for operators since 2012. It looks like the team will continue to offer fring as a service in its own right, judging from this blogpost published on Thursday.

My colleague Kevin Fitchard recently reported predictions that the OTT space was ripe for consolidation. Looks like that particular race has begun.