Why buy a whole package of services, when you can pick and choose just the ones you want? Thats the premise behind the new BroadSoft Marketplace, a shopping mall of nifty apps for the 450 carrier networks now running atop the BroadSoft infrastructure.
The project is an outgrowth of BroadSofts 2008 "Xtended" initiative, which invited partners to develop enhanced applications intended to drive user productivity and extend the value of their telephony service.
"Our goal in 2008 was to foster this innovation, to let the flowers bloom, and I think we succeeded in doing that," BroadSoft VP of emerging markets Shirish Andhare. "Now the challenge becomes, how does the innovation become monetized?"
Thats where the Marketplace comes in, turning apps into cash in a two-step process.
First, carriers come to the Marketplace to pick and choose those applications most suited to their particular client base. Then the carriers resell those apps to their own end users. Money flows from end user through the carrier (who takes a cut) on to the developer, who earns a licensing fee.
To get apps to the end user, BroadSoft is encouraging carrier networks to build their own versions of the Marketplace. Partner companies Comporium, SimpleSignal, Telesphere and WorldxChange have said they intend to introduce their own branded stores in early 2010.
Some 250 registered developers are testing apps at any given time, Andhare said. About two dozen applications are ready for prime time. These are divided into business and consumer appsas well as some aimed at vertical markets. Functions address messaging, mobility, productivity, and social networking. "You can have a soft phone that is more tightly integrated with BroadSoft. You can have an extended dialer. You can have speech-to-text transcription services," Andhare said.
In addition to such user-facing tools, apps on the Marketplace also address "the plumbing," Andhare said, including such backstage tools as session boarder controllers and media gateways.
To get a sense of where the apps are headed, consider the winners of this years XCv2 competition, sponsored by BroadSoft and Polycom. The contest invited developers to create innovative applications using BroadSoft's Xtended Web Services and other open application program interfaces (APIs).
Canadian developer Excendia produced a speech-enabled application allowing users to listen and reply to e-mails, send new e-mails, and review and schedule appointments using voice commands. Israeli firm MobileMax delivered a unified communications (UC) client enabling users to integrate BroadWorks features to their cellular phones. New Zealands WorldxChange Communications/Sulaco Technology created an online portal in which individuals can broadcast events and notices via text-to-speech, e-mail, SMS, and Twitter.
The Marketplace launch comes in response to sweeping changes within the mobile phone business environment, according to Andhare.
"There has been a huge shift in the way people look at their mobile phones. When you look at your iPhone, you can pick and choose any application; you dont have to rely on what the carrier wants to give you. So we want to allow the same level of choice and freedom for the end user when it comes to their business telephony needs," he said.
"The idea is very simple. Its about choice. Its about letting our operators actually address the needs of very niche markets."
The ability to pick and choose, and to convert those choices into salable products, will help carriers differentiate themselves in a crowded market. "When we talk about the 450 carriers whose networks we run, they are all voice carriers, and the voice industry is facing some very stiff competition," Andhare said.
The Marketplace solution aims to add value to those basic calling services. "We believe that to differentiate yourself as a service provider, you have to stand out and start providing some additional experiences that operate seamlessly along with your voice services."
All this is becoming especially necessary with the rise of a new breed of hyper-nimble providers, services like iGoogle and Ribbit. More staid carriers need a way to keep up, and the Marketplace could give them that boost, Andhare said.
"It gives the operator almost free R&D and innovation, and they can have it without really losing control, because they can look at the applications on the marketplace and pick and choose the ones that fit for their subscribers," he said.