Fring is trialling its own version of SkypeOut, the innovatively named FringOut, allowing Fring users to call fixed lines even if they still can't speak to Skype users.
Fring users can now call up people who aren't using Fring, without paying a monthly fee or connection charge, as long as they're using a Symbian handset and prepared to sign up to the trial, and don't mind being on a separate network from their Skype-touting mates.
Fring started out as a way of getting Skype onto a mobile phone, creating a gateway into the Skype service with an innovative business model that, unfortunately, proved too complicated to survive. The application then morphed into identity aggregation - offering a single logon to multiple messaging and VoIP networks with the intention of making money by hosting identities.
When that got more difficult, the business moved into an advertising model with banner ads embedded in the application, and that's still how the company hopes to make money. FringOut, therefore, is an additional service to hook customers, rather than a revenue-generating operation.
Such hooks are increasingly important to Fring, whose falling-out with Skype has left it without the killer feature with which it was spawned. Skype was happy to have Fring providing mobile access while it was free, but now there's advertising revenue to be gained Skype sees no reason it should allow Fring onto its network.
The question is if Fring can hang onto its users long enough to build a competitive service without Skype. Which is why it needs a FringOut capability, which it reckons is competitive with SkypeOut.
SkypeOut users have to either pay a monthly fee, or a connection charge of between three and six pence depending on the call. FringOut dispenses with both, but might cost slightly more depending on where you're calling (feel free to compare Fring with Skype, but remember that the former is inclusive of VAT, while the latter is not).
This kind of service is intensely price-competitive, so margins are paper thin with fickle customers willing to switch networks to save a few cents a minute. Fring is obliged to provide the service or lose customers, but it won't be easy to compete with Skype on rates given Skype's economies of scale.
That makes FringOut more of a retention service than one which will bring in new customers, though the company will be hoping to attract new users too. ®