BT considers Ribbit platform in wholesale services
Oscar Ruiz of BT GTM: I think we are ready to offer
as a wholesale service to other operators
BT is considering offering serviced delivered by its Ribbit
platform to other telecoms operators in a wholesale
No final decision has been taken, but Oscar Ruiz, president
of BT Global Telecom Markets — its international
wholesale division — told Global Telecoms Business not
only that BT is considering the move but that BT is "ready" to
move into the market with the suite of products.
If BT takes its ideas to market, this would mark a
significant change of strategy of the UK incumbent towards
offering white-labelled services to other operators. But
something of this nature must have been in BT’s
plans since it bought California-based Ribbit in 2008 for $105
Ribbit — which calls itself Silicon
Valley’s first phone company — was set up
by IT, internet and telecoms specialists to build an open
platform for innovation in voice applications.
It has a consumer product, Ribbit Mobile, a
voicemail-to-text-message service which is being tried out free
by a number of people in the industry. But there are also
packages for sales executives and for people in the legal,
medical, financial and other sectors. There are interfaces to
Salesforce and Oracle systems.
It is potentially, many have speculated, bigger than just an
add-on service that BT could offer to its own consumer and
And Ruiz appears to confirm that BT is thinking the same
way, about Ribbit and potentially other services.
"Ribbit is an advanced platform which allows us to treat
voice as data," says Ruiz. BT GTM — which is part of
the enterprise-facing BT Global Services but works closely with
BT Wholesale in offering connectivity and services to other
carriers — "offers carriers a list of things", he
says. "They may buy one, two or more. We have a platform on IP
in one location and operators can connect to it and deliver the
Ribbit is one of these possible services. "This is something
we are thinking about," he says. "Are we ready to do it now? I
think we are ready. Could we open it up for other players, a
wholesale offering? I think we’d benefit the whole
Operators are looking for applications and services to offer
to their end customers, "but we say to them: 'Why do you want
to develop this? I can offer it to you,’" says
What carriers might need
"Let’s think where the industry is going, and
what carriers are going to ask us to have in two to three
years," he adds. Carriers "can see it’s already
been done", by BT with Ribbit. There is no need for overlapping
investments, he adds. That is the point of a wholesale
operator: "A wholesaler thinks what carriers might need and how
we can help them move faster," he says.
This role of BT GTM as a wholesale services provider has
developed over the past couple of years, starting from
GTM’s initial task which was based more round
BT’s development of its all-IP 21st century
network in the UK and internationally.
"The complete transformation that BT has done, in the core
network and the access network, is one of the most aggressive
in the world," says Ruiz. BT recognised that other carriers
worldwide might benefit from consultancy — and in the
early days that is what GTM preferred to talk about, but more
recently the unit, based in Munich, well away from
BT’s home market, is giving more emphasis to
wholesale products and services that it offers to carriers.
"GTM covers all the wholesale business outside the UK.
It’s a global realisation. But we align very well
with BT Wholesale in the UK. Some accounts are global and the
products show some similarities. We work with carriers that
have domestic and global operations."
Wholesale services "have traditionally been network
dependent but in the future this will be less so, as products
move on to global IP services", he explains. And the
significant thing about products delivered in the IP layer is
that they can be delivered "next door or on another
BT can offer services on its own network — which
clearly has a stronger footprint in Europe than in the US,
Africa or Asia — but it can also offer them across the
world, he says. "We may use capacity from our partners if we
don’t have our own." And that means it can provide
services anywhere. "In BT we are one of the leaders in
innovation," he adds.
The connection with BT’s other divisions in
important, says Ruiz, "because in order to understand what is
required in wholesale you need to understand what is required
in retail markets". That includes services delivered "to
people, to small enterprises, to large corporations or to
Working with Tata
Within the division, traditional voice "is still a big part
of the business", and Ruiz immediately points to the
significance of the deal that BT has with Tata (see
interview with Srinath Narasimhan) to work together on
wholesale voice services, a deal "that positions BT and Tata
among the main players", he says. "This helps us have more
synergies and a global reach."
But wholesale is moving beyond voice, he emphasises. "There
are new services, such as field force automation. We have very
strong experience of managing field forces. We can sell that to
other carriers which may be less experienced."
GTM, he adds, can provide professional services to other
carriers, "sharing our knowledge and experience, especially to
carriers in developing markets".
Such professional services start with IP termination of
voice "and IP-to-IP connections at the bottom of the layer" and
move up to "services such as number management" that the
company can offer to fixed and mobile players.
But the 21CN project, he says, gives the company experience
in sectors such as "managing suppliers, how to manage capex and
investment, and all the services on top".
In the telecoms industry "every player is transforming to
IP, and some may want to do it on their own, but when they
consider value-added services maybe we can share something",
perhaps by offering them on a white-label arrangement.
BT has this advantage, he continues, because the UK became a
competitive market before many other countries. As a result,
"we’ve helped many operators worldwide", says
Ruiz. "We believe that by doing so we create value for the
market. We continue innovating to be ahead in the marketplace,
so we are able to survive in the market."
The company has helped "both incumbents and second and third
players" in markets. "BT has been successful in a competitive
market in the UK. Our aim is to help them evolve, to support
them from the wholesale point of view."
The 21CN model
One question the company is asked by potential wholesale
customers "is how to replicate the 21CN model and superfast
broadband", he says. "We can help them think about the
portfolio of technologies, such as WiMax and fibre, so they can
create a business and sustain it."
The reference is WiMax is intriguing. BT is one of the few
incumbents in the world without its own wireless business: it
used to have what became O2, but split that off as an
independent company more than a decade ago, and a few years
later the Spanish incumbent, Telefónica, bought it up.
So why the reference to WiMax?
Ruiz points out that in the early days BT has "significant
investments in mobile" and worked with "most of the larger
operators around the world". But WiMax, which has developed
since BT split from O2?
"We have done trials with new technologies and mobile
technologies," says Ruiz. "We know what can be done with WiMax
and other technologies." And BT is a member of the WiMax Forum.
With that, slightly uncomfortably, Ruiz drops the subject,
leaving in the air the interesting possibility that BT is
nursing WiMax ideas.
He turns to the white-labelling idea. "We have a portfolio
of legacy products and a portfolio that is evolving," he says.
"We offer to carriers a list of things and they may buy one,
two or more. Operators can connect and deliver the
And that’s when he starts to talk
enthusiastically about Ribbit as part of the portfolio of
possible services. "This is something we are thinking
There are other products in the portfolio, such as SMS
hubbing. Usually when people send text messages "they hope it
arrives" and "there is no acknowledgement of receipt", he
notes. BT has the technology to make SMS more like email, he
says: "We can do this already. This is very attractive." Even
internally in companies SMSs with added features could be used
to manage field forces, he explains.
Operators "could offer different quality of service and can
make money out of it", he adds. "Many have roadmaps" that
include such features, but they are already available. "BT is
at the forefront of developments." Carriers are thinking about
priorities, but "we are ahead of the others and are trying to
drive how things will work", he says.
This is "a very radical and different approach to what
wholesale means", says Ruiz. "We are one of the largest
wholesalers, and we are a serious wholesaler. It’s
not just to fill the capacity of our networks." The idea is to
be ahead, and to share that expertise. "Our aim is to keep