Your Facebook or LinkedIn account doesn’t have a phone number, but one day it might if Tyntec has anything to say about it. The German company wants to build a virtual mobile phone into any Web 2.0 service whose primary mission is interpersonal networking. By doing so Tyntec can bridge the gap between two flourishing yet largely disconnected worlds: over-the-top IP communications and mobile.
The service is called tt.One and assigns a real phone number either temporarily or permanently to almost anything, whether it’s a social network ID, IM account, mobile app or even an online dating service profile. That phone number can then be used to make voice calls and send text and multimedia messages into and outside or the app or service.
Tyntec has been working with Web-based peer-to-peer messaging company Pinger in Europe to extend its voice and text messaging services beyond its app, allowing members to send SMS messages to any mobile phone. But on Wednesday, Tyntec announced plans to expand to the U.S. and Canada (Pinger’s U.S. SMS service is powered by a competitor). CEO Michael Kowalzik said there is a huge opportunity in North America given the sheer volume of new over-the-top communications services emerging here each year.
How it works
Tyntec’s technology sounds like a lot like Google Voice and SkypeIn, and the principles are the same. The difference is that Google and Skype have built their own vast infrastructures, something that most Web companies have neither the money or inclination to do.
Instead, Tyntec is working directly with the mobile carriers, building a parallel network of SMS centers and servers within their networks. That allows Tyntec to replicate every aspect of a mobile phone – SMS, voice, subscriber authentication, and, of course, an actual phone number – and virtualize it in an IP environment.
“In the end, we’re operating a whole separate core network within the operator,” said Kowalzik said. “Over-the-top players want to get into the legacy mobile world, and we can give them that access.”
Not all operators are willing to play ball
Why would operators allow such access when over-the-top players are the ones cannibalizing their voice and SMS revenues? The short answer is they get paid. Tyntec functions essentially like an MVNO, buying SMS transactions, voice minutes and phone numbers from its operator partners at wholesale rates. In the case of most over-the-top traffic, they see no revenue at all, except what they collect in data subscriptions. By offering up access to their networks, they share in wealth rather than just stand idly by, Kowalzik said.
But there’s a Catch-22: The ubiquity of their services is really the only thing protecting the operators from losing their SMS and voice revenue entirely. If every app or Web service could reach outside of its confines and touch 6 billion mobile devices, there would be little reason for consumers to use carriers’ voice and SMS services at all. That’s why Tyntec’s partners have been smaller operators like Germany’s E-Plus that are looking for a way to differentiate themselves from their larger competitors, Kowalzik said – they have a lot less to lose.
Kowalzik wouldn’t reveal Tyntec’s North American carrier partners, but it’s probably a safe bet they aren’t AT&T and Verizon. In Canada, Rogers has actually tried to head off the over-the-top onslaught by launching its own softphone service called One Number. It will be interesting to see if more Web companies begin to use Tyntec and other virtual number services like those offered by Bandwidth.com to take the battle even further to the operators.