Fring, maker of free phone software used to access a variety of loss-making services, reckons there's money to be made hosting identities for network operators. But the company's commitment to end users could be its undoing.
Fring's software consolidates a user's identities on the various loss-making services that are so popular these days - Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Google Talk, and the like - integrating them into a single interface that extends the on-device address book to include presence and status information. We've already covered various attempts by the company to generate revenue, but this time hosted identities are expected to bring in the readies.
The Fring client only connects, directly, to the Fring server, unlike applications such as Slick Messenger or IM+ that establish multiple connections from the handset to the various services. This means that Fring can easily support a whole lot of services, but it also forces the company to keep a huge number of servers running - an ongoing expense which desperately needs a business model to survive.
The latest wheeze is to get operators to pay Fring to run the servers, in exchange for offering customers a branded version of the client. This is, apparently, completely different from the inserted adverts that the company has already trialled: this is "branding", not advertising, and users don't mind that.
The Fring client is to be pre-installed on phones from Samsung, the Innov8 and the OmniaHD, which is impressive if not revenue generating. Austrian operator A1 is also offering a branded version of the client, so at least one operator is interested in hosting punters' on-line identities.
Other operators are also interested, but Fring's insistence on owning the customer relationship may discourage many.
Operators want to host identities to prevent churn - number portability means one can take one's number to any operator, but there is no regulation requiring operators to forward e-mail accounts, or social-networking identities.
Fring promises that users won't be locked to a network to use its service, punters will be able to switch networks and still log on to the same Fring account - exactly the functionality operators don't want, and will prevent them paying Fring for the service. ®