DM: So Carsten, give us the brief history of Synchronica if you would please
CB: Sure. We started out seven years ago with push email and synchronisation and added Instant Messaging (IM) and productivity and social networking. Mobile Gateway is a gateway to various messaging platforms, and we thought it important to mobilize them. Our vision is to harmonise them and provide unified messaging sources on the mobile phone, because users don’t just email or Facebook or Twitter; they have multiple identities on multiple communities and because of this change, it is more important to work with all of them and combine them, and so the concept of unified messaging becomes important.
DM: So explain what you mean by unified messaging.
CB: Today you would launch a Twitter app, then launch a Facebook app, then launch the email app to check emails, and then launch a news reader to see what is happening in the world. So you are launching silo applications to delve into the information sources. You have to launch information-specific apps, and is quite tiresome to have to launch five or six to get up to date with all your identities.
With Mobile Gateway 6, you would launch the messaging app, and in that, you have a unified messaging view which aggregates all the information sources, ordered by time, and they can be filtered by type and groups, so you would see emails and posts on Facebook from your friends next to each other, so you are no longer interested in where the information came from, you are just interested in who said something. And of course you can filter it. So by default you can see everything, but you can say, it’s getting too noisy, and filter it out, or go into another tab and see the individual silos, so just email, or just Facebook.
And with Mobile Gateway 6, we do it with an ultra-lightweight client which we bring even to feature phones, because not everyone has a smartphone. In developing countries, the smartphone revolution is three years out, so we have made it available on feature phones via an ultra-lightweight Java client, just 160kb. It sounds a bit retro, but it’s the only way to do it.
DM: And can it cope with other social networks, or just Facebook and Twitter?
CB: If it is consumable using an RSS feed, then yes. If it’s a proprietary system, we would have to develop a connector for it.
DM: So tell us why you chose to focus initially on developing regions.
CB: There is huge potential in these regions, and most mobile messaging companies ignore it. But we saw huge potential in it and a market opportunity to focus on these regions, and address them with specifically designed and featured products, because you can’t take an app designed for the US and Europe, and apply it to Africa, it just does not work. That has been the approach taken by our US competitors, and they have all failed, because they ignored the reality of the target market. They said: ‘Let’s wait two years, and they will be same as us, but they are not. Our app is designed in a way that respects the target market, and so it can succeed. It works on smartphones, but it also works on a Nokia 1100, the most popular phone in Africa. If your app does not work in text-only mode on a non-data-enabled device, you are immediately removing 60 - 70 per cent of your target market.
Our unified messaging solution will work on a text-only phone. You will see texts, instant messages and RSS feeds as text, but you have almost the same functionality (as on a smartphone). So you can send and receive email as SMS, follow your Facebook community and it will all appear as an SMS or an MMS. So it is essential that the product works on entry level phones, and respects the reality of these regions, but also works on higher end phones too. And we think now we are able to address more developed markets with this approach and so we have added advanced features.
DM: Such as?
CB: We have a presence-enabled address book, so it becomes the starting place for communication, so rather than launching a silo app, you launch the address book, check the presence status, the availability of the person want to communicate with, and then, based on the presence information, decide how to communicate with them. So you could see if someone is online on Twitter or Facebook or Googletalk and if so, you would probably use IM to communicate with them. But if an individual shows as being buys or offline, then you might send an email. This RCS (Rich Communications Suite) is enabling operators doing unified messaging and presence -enabled address books, and we are delivering on this.
We also acquired Neustar’s messaging assets, and expanded our footprint in Europe with 11 carrier contracts, so with one strike, we have a significant presence, and we have to cater for them, so we are now looking at the needs of operators in Europe.
DM: But with your initial focus on emerging markets, does the competition not have a head start on you in developed markets?
CB: The concept of mobile unified messaging is still new. Unified messaging has been around for years, but the focus has been on PCs rather than mobile. The integration of social networks and messaging communities has not yet happened yet.
DM: So have you closed any deals in developed countries yet?
CB: The sales cycle for Mobile Gateway 6 is around six – nine months, so we have just started this process, so we are not expecting anyone to go live yet, but maybe in the third or fourth quarter, we should see results. The carrier industry is rather conservative; you should not expect revolutions to happen in a few weeks like on the internet. They think in the long term and are very strategic, but we think these deals will happen, and we think we have the right product for them.
Carsten Brinkschulte is CEO of Synchronica