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Interview with Alex Nerst

As you might probably know, fring is one of the most popular mVoIP application for Symbian (Nokia and UIQ) smartphones and Windows Mobile mobile devices. Actually you could read few articles about this application on our site. Now we've got an opportunity to ask few questions about future plans, perspectives of fring developing, etc to fring co-founder, Alext Nerst.


Alex Nerst

Founder and Chief Technology Officer Alex Nerst is responsible for product development at fring. With over 15 years experience in the high-tech and telecommunications industry, Nersts broad expertise includes technology innovation management, new products development, communications and telecom, embedded solutions and media processing.

Nersts entrepreneurial successes include founding and growing InterObjects from a one-man consultancy to a leading international technology company with more than 50 engineers. Nerst previously founded and was CEO of Radja, the developer and marketer of rapid software application development tools for non-professional web and java users, and later adopted by Sun Java Studio and IBM Web Studio. He was previously product manager and development team leader at Telrad, where he deployed telecom services that allowed operators and users without software development skills to create innovative telecom services.

Alex holds a MSC in Applied mathematics and Computer science from the Lvov University, Ukraine.

Mobile-Review (MR) - Please tell us, who came up with the idea of application? Who is the founder of the project, what are the main goals he had in mind while developing it?

Alex Nerst (Fring) - fring was created through an evolution that began with a technology designed to optimize the cellular platform and squeeze every ounce of VoIP value from the network and each handset. Originally it was developed as an industry solution to benefit the network operators, but my co-founders didnt have to work too hard to convince me of the disruptive nature and great consumer potential of the core technology. After developing an initial fring platform for over a year (in a basement!!) my co-founder Boaz Zilberman took on the personal challenge to make the mobile VoIP application so simple to use that anyone, not just the technology savvy who usually enjoy advanced applications, could use and love. We realized that this service was far better suited for the mass-market; so we began looking for funding to support this goal and met-up with Avi Shechter, who was a former Co-Manager of ICQ and, at the time we met him, a consultant at Veritas, a top Israeli Venture Capital fund. Avi, who previously co-managed ICQ growing it from 12 to 150 million users, turned the product capability into the fring people know today a compelling and some say even addictive service.

MR How is fring funded?

Fring - Weve just completed a second round with US-based North Bridge Venture Partners joined by Venfin limited, and our original, Israeli-based investors Veritas and Pitango plus a private investor, Yossi Vardi.

MR fring is currently available for free. Will it always be free for the user?

Fring - fring as it is offered today will ALWAYS be provided for free. In the future, users will be offered premium services from fring and third party providers to enhance their mobile experience.

MR Can we expect to see fring own tariffs (on fring network) for calls to mobile and fixed telephones?

Fring - No - fring will not charge users for phone calls. What we currently do and will continue to offer is an open choice of VoIP or SIP based options so users can choose the best way to make a phone call to non-VoIP destinations whether through SkypeOut, SIP providers or any other call termination service that can provide fring users with additional call choices.

MR The applications functionality has been rising steadily. Recently, fring included ICQ support. Do you plan to develop other product features, such as file transfer, smileys, etc?

Fring - Yes, fring is constantly enhancing feature sets for our users as we work toward our vision of providing the greatest mobile internet experience possible. In addition to the launch of cellular to WLAN auto-roaming, we just released vibrate and fringtones; now fringsters can change their incoming call and message tones to include any tone already in the phone or download a fringtone from our site, www.fring.com/fringtones

In addition, we are prepping for support of WISPr which will enable the ability to auto-roam into public WI-FI networks without the need to enter user credentials on every connection.

MR fring differs from other Skype applications by creating of its own network, and you even gave her a name mVoIP. How rapidly is this network expanding? Can you give some specific figures? And how do you rate the general mobile VoIP market?

Fring - fring doesnt comment on any numbers. However I can certainly comment on our vision of the future of the mobile VoIP telephony market. Mobile VoIP is all about bringing the internet communication experience to the mobile phone user. Users want the freedom of movement, with the functionality, access and cost savings that internet communication affords. Now users already benefit from mobile VoIP phone calls to PC VoIP programs (like Skype, MSN, ICQ, Google Talk, etc) and regular phones (using SkypeOut and SIP services). In the future all internet communication will be affordably accessible to the mobile phone user, including content, rich internet communication features and greater cost savings. In addition, as more sophisticated smartphones penetrate the mass market, VoIP communication will become a common communication option beyond the early adopters who are currently enjoying it. The market may also expand from consumers to business users as VoIP technology improves over time. Right now fring is focused entirely on the consumer market although we were interested to find in recent surveys that a lot of fring users are actually using fring for their SOHO business and regular communication with international partners who prefer to communicate with them over MSN or Skype. Now they can be accessible to partners via these popular IM services without having to be near their PC. Over the coming years mVoIP will be just as common as current PC-based communication.

MR Many fring users in Russia have complained of not clear voice quality with calls to mobile phones via the SIP protocol. Are you going to solve this problem? How and how soon?

Fring - There are two main factors influencing voice quality: client/server VoIP technology and server deployment. fring is in constant effort to improve its proprietary VoIP technology. Our users could notice that audio quality on Symbian based devices is better than on Windows Mobile based ones. This is result of the difference of the mobile platform maturity for VoIP applications. Our prime target currently is to achieve better voice quality on Windows Mobile devices.

fring is going to deploy some of its servers in Russia.

MR Recently, Russia is actively developing wireless internet access via Wi-Fi protocols. Does fring have any plans for cooperated work with carriers? You mentioned a product release that supports auto-roaming. Does this allow the ability to switch between networks? (GSM/3G/Wi-Fi)?

Fring - fring philosophy is about giving users the greatest communication freedom of choice for the optimal experience, whatever their criteria for judging that experience. If a carrier or any other partner would like to cooperate in a way that achieves these goals without compromising customer choice, then fring is certainly interested.

With regards to auto-roaming, yes we are very excited to announce that the recently released fring client for Nokia phones supports cellular to WLAN auto-roaming, making full use of the dual-mode power of Wi-Fi/3G/Edge devices. Auto-roaming enables all dual-mode fring users to automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks they use, without any manual involvement and switch to cellular networks out of Wi-Fi scope.

MR Speaking of prospects: will there be version of fring for the PC or for most regular phones on the Java platform?

Fring - fring is a mobile-centric client and our core competency is in creating the optimal mobile internet communication experience for more users worldwide through the widest range of handsets. For this reason we are constantly working on more phone platforms and a wider choice of compatible devices to bring the fring value to more people worldwide, as demonstrated by our fast progression from S60 Symbian to Windows Mobile and UIQ platforms within less than a year after launching.

MR fring supports proprietary protocols (Skype). But fring is a direct competitor of Skype. You manage to agree with the creators of Skype to open source or fring work with Skype network based on the "gates".

Fring - Skype has an open API that enables fring and others to use it. We bring mobile skype to fringsters worldwide in addition to other instant messaging and VoIP services such as SIP, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ and even micro-blogging service Twitter.

MR What is your opinion: can VoIP telephony oust traditional voice traffic? How soon might this happen and what role does fring play in this process?

Fring - We do not consider fring as a direct alternative to traditional voice. fring provides mobile internet experience with includes much more than just voice. Traditional voice will be replaced by VoIP based solutions, but it will take time. On other hand the voice communication experience change is much more fundamental than just underlying technology change. The total user experience of a voice call is changing and becoming more integrated with other internet applications such as IM, social networks, etc.

MR The Mobile-review.com audience took very well to this new application for Internet telephony. Our plans are to open a separate VoIP section of mobile-review.com forum. What would you like to wish our readers?

Fring - Continue exploring all the ways you can maximize the brilliant capabilities in your advanced mobile handsets to harness all the power the internet has to offer. We have only just started to scratch the surface there are infinite communication opportunities and as long as we are here to keep developing, and you continue to demand more from your mobile communication, the sky is our limit. Please continue letting us know what you think about fring, mobile VoIP in general, and how we can help empower you to release the greatest potential from your mobile device and internet connection! So fring on toward real mobile independence!


Viktor Dashkevich (viktor.dashkevich@mobile-review.com)

Published — 06 September 2007

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